View our 2011-2012 Annual Report
Find out about your Des Moines Public Library
There is so much to know about us. Check out the links to the left. Our Mission and Vision drive what we do every day to serve our customers. Our Services and Policies pages are a rich mine of information on what we can provide you as our library customer. Many customers and groups are interested in booking one of our meeting rooms, either at the new Central Library, or at one of our branches. Find out the details here.
Our services extend beyond our four walls. Outreach services such as the Rosie van, the Rover project, and homebound services cover the city with the library. Inside the library we have Special Collections that you might not know are available, like our extensive Iowa Collection and our Shoah Visual History Collection. We are also a Federal Document Depository Library.
Every great library has great leaders serving the staff and the wider community. Meet our Director, Greg Heid, and our library Administrative Team. Meet our Board of Trustees, appointed by the Mayor to guide our policy-making. Learn about our energetic Library Foundation, seeking ways to bring private monies and partnerships together with a city-funded Public Library to create an institution that is ready for the challenges of the future.
History of the Central Library
The Des Moines Public Library began as the Des Moines Library Association in 1866 in the basement of a Methodist Church. In its early years, the library was supported by contributions and public charity. By 1882, finances had been precarious for several years, and it was decided to turn the library over to the city for establishment of a free public library. After much discussion and contention, the city purchased riverfront property in 1898 for $35,000. This is the site of the former Main Library building at 100 Locust Street. The cornerstone for the building was laid in 1900, and the building, constructed of salmon pink Minnesota limestone, was opened in October, 1903.
In the 1920s, the library provided a home for the Cumming School of Art and it was the birthplace of the Library Bill of Rights in 1938 under director Forrest Spaulding. The Library Bill of Rights set forth a program to combat "growing intolerance, suppression of free speech and censorship affecting the rights of minorities and individuals." The bill is still in use today by the American Library Association to ensure diversity of viewpoints in all library materials.
Over the years, the library developed and changed. The Boys and Girls Department opened in 1937 in new and large quarters on the ground floor. Also in the 1930s, Des Moines artist Harry Donald Jones began painting a mural on the 1,091 square feet of wall space on the ground floor as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project. Entitled "The Social History of Des Moines," the mural traced the growth of Des Moines from prehistoric times to present days. (We are planning to produce a video about the mural.)
In the 1950s, the music department developed, featuring a large collection of circulating vinyl records, a listening room with piano and record player, and a series of free concerts of recorded music presented weekly in the library's auditorium. The fountain and ornamental steps on the east lawn of the library by the riverbank were removed in the summer of 1955. The black library building turned pink in the summer of 1956 when the accumulated soot and grime of more than fifty years were sandblasted off, the first time the exterior had been cleaned since 1903. As Des Moines expanded, a new program of building branch libraries was put into place, with the opening of the West Side Branch Library (now Franklin Avenue Library) in 1965. Several other branches followed. (we have further info about each of the branches' remodeling in the FAQ brochure.)
By the mid-1990s, it became evident that the Main Library (now rechristened the Central Library) was too small and lacked the technological capacity needed to serve the needs of twenty-first century users. After an extensive selection process, London architect David Chipperfield was selected to design a new Central Library, to be located at 1000 Grand Avenue and spanning two city blocks. This new building, which opened on April 8, 2006, featured room for some sixty public computers, a colorful Children's Library, meeting rooms available for community use, study rooms for individual use, a Teen area, and free wireless Internet access.