MASON CITY | At around 4 p.m. Tuesday, the second-floor boardroom was overflowing with people for the Mason City Public Library Board of Trustees meeting.
The room was so crowded before Tuesday's 4:15 p.m. library board meeting that city council members Paul Adams and John Lee, along with several others, had to watch from the doorway. City Administrator Aaron Burnett also attended the meeting, sitting alongside library board members.
In a news release Monday, Library Director Mary Markwalter stated NCIGS could stay in the library if the group forfeited ownership of its collection to the library and moved it into the Mason City Public Library Integrated Library System.
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At Tuesday's meeting, President Mark Suby offered a counter proposal with several conditions. One included a name change of the genealogy library to the "Genealogy and History Center." Another included a $1,200 yearly payment to the library for the room, since library officials feel the space could be rented out for a fee. Suby also wanted the collection to remain under control of the NCIGS, and to replace the shelving removed from the room.
The majority of people at Tuesday's meeting supported Suby and the NCIGS. One attendee stated she believed the library's proposal was reasonable, which drew a negative response from many in the crowd.
Many others, however, spoke in support of the genealogy library, citing its importance in helping them research family history. They also said the room was one of the best genealogical libraries in the state.
That included Rod Hungerford, vice president of NCIGS. Hungerford volunteers much of his time in the genealogy room, helping people research family history and other topics.
"If you're gonna sell the city in a positive light, you don't get rid of the things people wanna see," he told the library board, later adding: "If you get rid of gems, pretty soon, all you're gonna have is plastic."
Several NCIGS members, along with other library groups, criticized the board for how they've handled discussions about the library's future. That included Coni Samsel, president of the Friends of the Library, a nonprofit advocacy group for the library.
"I've been to a couple of these meetings, and I've never heard the word 'compromise,'" Samsel said.
Only four library board members were present at Tuesday's meeting. Board President John Henry, along with members Dave Moore and Mark Dodd, did not attend.
Board members Dennis Reidel and Carrie Berg declined to comment on the proposal Suby and the NCIGS submitted Tuesday, adding they and other board members needed time to review it. The library board's next meeting is 4:15 p.m. Sept. 18.
Berg did elaborate on comments she made during the meeting, when she said she personally believed NCIGS should be self-sustaining and continue to try to find a new location.
"I just believe clubs and societies need to be independent," Berg told the Globe Gazette after the meeting. "There are a lot of clubs in this town that don't require public support for housing, internet, maintenance and housekeeping, and so I just feel they should be independent."
Board members did unanimously pass an extension Tuesday, allowing NCIGS and its collection to remain in place through Sept. 30.
Emotions ran high for some at Tuesday's meeting. One man started to cry when telling the board how Hungerford helped him find unknown ancestors with Civil War ties. Another did the same when describing the power of actually being able to hold original records and letters from family members.
Along with Tuesday's support, more than half a dozen letters to the editor have been sent to the Globe Gazette in support of the genealogy library staying in place. Markwalter, the library director, also received a number of similar emails in support of the society.
Pam Little of Mason City argued Tuesday that the collection was too important to move or concede to the library.
"Mason City, Iowa, and North Iowa has an amazing history," Little said. "This collection communicates with you in a very real, tangible, get-in-your-gut sort of way."
Letters to the editor on North Central Iowa Genealogical Society
Letters to the editor on North Central Iowa Genealogical Society
Letter: Which cape will library board wear?
Will the Library Board of Trustees – John Henry, president; Dennis Reidel, vice president; Carrie Berg, Mark Dodd, Jennifer Lee, Dave Moore, Shelly Schmidt; and Library Director Mary Markwalter become heroes or villains? The board has an opportunity at its Sept. 18 meeting to make that decision.
They can become heroes by rescinding their vote to evict the Genealogy Library, or villains by evicting the Genealogy Library on Sept. 30. Note: Mark Dodd and Jennifer Lee were not trustees when the eviction was voted on.
They might become heroes in the eyes of the North Central Iowa Genealogical Society, that owns the collection of 5,000-plus books and materials housed in the Genealogy Library and their thousands of supporters who have come forward upon hearing of the eviction. Many supporters are not genealogists but feel the Genealogy Library should remain as an integral part of the MCPL.
They will definitely be villains if they uphold their vote to evict the Genealogy Library. Notes from library board meetings:
In March, noted the GL provided no income, need to determine what revenue it might generate.
In April, director stated she needs to talk to NCiGS about paying rent, (but never did contact us).
In May, voted to evict GL.
In August, interview announced room to become meeting room with usage fee.
Records show that the library only generated $1,315 FY2018 from the rooms it rents, yet it needs to add another rental room? NCIGS has offered to pay a guaranteed $1,200 a year, which has not been accepted.
The thing is, NICIGS would have gladly paid a nominal rental fee all the years it has occupied the space in the MCPL. We were never asked for rent, but now they are making us look like the villains.
So will the library board choose to be heroes or villains?
Mark Suby, Mason City
Letter: Public, club deserve library truth
On May 30, the Mason City Library Board served notice to the North Iowa Genealogical Society to vacate the space that they are using at the library. The Genealogical Society has been housed in the library for about four decades. I read the reason for the eviction at first was the space was to be used for youth. Now it’s my understanding the reason has changed to the library would like to rent the genealogical room space out for meeting space to the general public for additional income.
I read the July 17 financial report for the Mason City library. It reflects the total amount of meeting room fees collected at the library in fiscal year 2018 (July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018) was $1,315.
On Aug. 21, the North Central Iowa Genealogical Society offered to pay rent in the amount of $1,200 a year to the library. If the genealogy board rental offer is accepted by the library board, this would nearly double the annual rental income for the library.
As a former banker, that if the library doesn’t accept their offer, it would seem the eviction may be for other than financial reasons.
The library should be truthful for the reason for the eviction, not only to the genealogy club members, but to the taxpayers that have come to the library board meetings in support of leaving the genealogy room in the library. Perhaps cool heads will prevail and a compromise can be reached.
Patty Paul, Boerne, Texas
NCIGS Board: We've given and compromised with the Mason City library
North Central Iowa Genealogical Society and the Mason City Public Library Board have been frequently told we should reach a compromise in the case of the Library Board evicting the Genealogy Library, or GL, from the Mason City Public Library. According to the dictionary, compromise means to settle a dispute by each side making concessions, a give and take situation.
Here is the library’s proposal
1) Materials owned by NCIGS would become property of the library. NCIGS was told the library would only have room for 500 of the 5,000-plus items and leftovers would be returned to NCIGS. Take and give?
2) The collection would be moved to another area. The ability to effectively help genealogists would be difficult. Take.
3) NCIGS members can apply to become volunteers to conduct genealogy searches for the public. The library director doesn’t allow volunteers. Take.
4) The current plan is to change the genealogy room into a meeting room with a usage fee. Take.
5) The library very generously agreed not to charge NCIGS for using genealogy resources. Since when have they charged anyone to use books within the library? Give?
Additionally, the library director has:
1) Removed four sets of shelves used in GL. Take.
2) Not allowed monthly NCIGS meetings, even for a fee. Take.
3) Not allowed to keep NCIGS microfilm reader in GL Take.
4) Told NCIGS not to apply for local grants. Take.
5) Free room for NCIGS educational sessions open to public – Give.
NCIGS suggested changing the name to Genealogy & History Center to increase usage to both GL and MCPL if the card files would be combined. Give.
NCIGS would staff the center. Give.
NCIGS would pay a yearly fee of $1,200. Give.
NCIGS would assist people in genealogy searches. Give.
After a renovation, NCIGS donated $3,500 to the library. Give.
NCIGS has had free use of the room for 40 years. NCIGS was never asked to pay rent. Take.
NCIGS offered payment for an ink spill which was refused. Give?
Final tally: Mason City Public Library, eight takes, 1 give, 2 qualified gives. NCIGS, one take, five gives, one qualified give.
In the give and take situation, we’d say it’s a pretty one-sided compromise. What do you think?
Letter: Library conflict is about power
From the time Mary Markwalter took over at the library, she has been trying to get the society out of there. One of the first things she did was to remove about half of their shelving and put it in another room. It was not used for anything, just sitting there empty. But she asserted her authority.
She has not been friendly to the people working in the room (ask some of the genealogy members), being rude and constantly remarking how the society was taking up room, time and library assets while doing nothing meaningful.
Mary enjoys power, and some of us in the society wonder if she really wants (or needs) the room, or whether it's just another attempt to gain total control over her little fiefdom. She runs the building like a prison, which is another example of her desire for power. So I wish everyone would just step back, take a deep breath, and ask the real purpose in this proposed change. Is there a real purpose in this, or just another step in Mary's little game of total control?
Also consider this: once she gets the genealogy department out of there, how long before she sets her sights on the archives room?
The library is a needed, respected and loved part of Mason City. But it should not be run on someone's ego or desire for authority.
Lowell Swenson, Mason City
Letter: Library board won't compromise
Update on genealogy library (GL) eviction: Thirty-five supporters attended the library board meeting on Aug. 21. Twelve or more spoke 75 minutes on the importance of keeping the GL intact in its present location in the MCPL, plus we'd gathered 725 signatures on a petition. The board tabled it, as three members were absent. Two members stated they did not see the necessity of voting on this matter, as they had already voted on it. (May 5, voted to evict the GL). They approved an extension until Sept. 30, but told us to continue looking for alternate space.
City Council wants the two groups to reach a compromise. The Library Board proposes: 1) NCIGS turn ownership of our collection over to the MCPL. 2) The collection would be moved to another area. (Library director stated in July they only had room for 500 of our 5000 items.) 3) Our members can apply to become volunteers to conduct genealogy searches. (Impossible with 90 percent of the collection missing.) NCIGS Board learned of this proposal the night before the meeting. It was never formally sent. The "stinger" is the room is to become a meeting room with a fee. That is more important than a genealogy library?
NCIGS proposes: 1) GL be left as is, but renamed the Genealogy and History Center and operated by NCIGS. (MCPL is almost totally lacking in history resources, which the GL has); 2) NCIGS will pay $1,200 a year (FY2018 the library received $1,315 for all rented rooms). The Globe Gazette Editorial Board stated NCIGS should not have free space. We were never asked to pay anything.
Now, who has been willing to compromise? We need the public to speak up for us. Please contact your city councilman. Thanks for your support.
Carol Tinkey, Mason City
Letter: Appreciate work by genealogy volunteers
I've been saddened to read about the Mason City Public Library's threat of removing the genealogical collection from the building. The collection represents unknown long hours, days and years of hard work done by dedicated volunteers to preserve such important history for future generations.
Many people do not become interested in researching their family lineage until mid-life when they have more time and motivation to do the research. Libraries are the logical places for people to seek such help, as I did when finding our family's past.
I have used the MCPL, Forest City Public Library, St. Olaf College library and archives, plus many other resources in the past. I also used the local newspaper archives to obtain obituaries that were put on index cards in both the Lake Mills and Forest City libraries. This information has helped many people, locally and out-of-state, to flush out family ancestors. It has been exciting to connect descendants to early ancestors who were early residents of my hometown of Lake Mills.
A town's genealogical collections should be considered a "real gem" in the library collection, with those using it appreciating the volunteers' service of love by the preservation of the town/community's history for future generations.
Elaine Bergan, Northwood
Letter: Materials belong at the library
I am deeply disappointed and dismayed that the Mason City Public Library Board and Director Mary Markwalter are demanding that the North Central Iowa Genealogical Society vacate the library's Genealogy Room, which houses over 5,000 historical reference materials relating to genealogy. While some of the items can be found online, many others are accessible only in print.
According to my (print) Webster's dictionary, a library is "a place where literary and artistic materials such as books, periodicals, newspapers, pamphlets, prints, records, and tapes are kept for reading, reference, or lending." Furthermore, the collection is a natural extension of the library's historical archives; both may be referenced by the same users. Properly promoted, the two sections can enhance the library's fine reputation.
In addition to personal interest, genealogy is a topic often assigned to students from elementary level through post-high school. Social studies and history teachers and their students often visit the collection.
NCIGS is a nonprofit organization maintained by volunteers who also staff the genealogy room during daytime library hours. Any proposed move is expensive beyond our means, in large part because any area housing the collection must be climate-controlled to prevent damage to valuable documents by heat, cold and humidity. The purchase or rent and remodeling of suitable quarters is vastly beyond the means of NCIGS.
To date, no other potential use of the space has been divulged.
Please join teachers, NCIGS and other interested citizens in preserving this valuable library of materials by attending the Mason City Council meeting at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Aug. 21. The library board meets at 4:15 p.m. the same day in the second floor of the board room.
Doris Smith, Mason City
Letter: Library needs genealogy club
According to USA Today, genealogy is currently the second most popular hobby in the U.S.
Despite online resources, family history isn’t becoming an armchair-only hobby. A few years ago, University of Illinois Department of Recreation, Sport and Tourism professor Carla Santos described “genealogy tourists” as a fast-growing segment of leisure travelers. They’re tourists in search of their own stories. After interviewing visitors to the Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Santos described them as searching for a “generational sense of the self.”
“It starts at home, where they learn everything they can online. Then they want the tactile experience of research, of going to the library to learn more.”
“This form of tourism is growing rapidly and is increasingly popular as western societies age,” Dallen Timothy, professor at Arizona State University and editor of the Journal of Heritage Tourism.
During the last major library remodeling, the club and the library worked together, planning club space in the library as part of the library’s long-term plans. Now some club shelving has been removed at the librarian’s instructions causing irreplaceable documents to be stored on the porch of a club member.
Genealogy resources that can’t be found on the internet are a draw to the genealogist. Not all resource material can be digitized; old maps and plat books are valuable for research and information.
The genealogy group depends on membership dues for its finances and doesn’t have funding or cash flow to be able to buy or rent space elsewhere.
Library use is trending down. Libraries need to support resources that bring people in the door to justify their existence.
Library board: reverse the eviction order and support this valuable part of your community.
Patty Paul, Boerne, Texas
Letter: Collection headed to the dump?
On June 1, Mark Suby, president of North Central Iowa Genealogical Society, received a letter from librarian Mary Markwalter. It stated: “Due to the changing space utilization needs of the library, the Mason City Public Library Board of Directors is requesting that the North Central Iowa Genealogical Society remove the items owned by the Society and its members and vacate the space currently used by the Society at the Mason City Public Library by August 1, 2018.”
The Genealogy Library has been located in the MCPL since 1979. The first few years, they operated out of a few boxes but over the years through grants and donations, the library has grown to over 5,000 books. There are books on immigrants from European countries, passenger lists from ships, several sections on Iowa with histories of towns, cemetery records, church histories, plat maps, family histories, census, military records, and vital records from 1855-1940, and so much more.
It is considered a top-notch genealogy library, a place where not only citizens of Mason City and Cerro Gordo County come for information about their ancestors, but also serves the surrounding eight counties, plus people all across the country who stop in or write us.
There is renewed interest in genealogy with DNA testing and the TV show, plus, Rod Hungerford is in the library most weekdays to assist people who don’t have a computer or have no idea how to use one to find genealogy records.
So what is to happen to this valuable genealogical collection we have amassed? NCIGS is a small organization and doesn’t have money to pay rent, so will it end up in the city dump? We need help and input from the citizens of Mason City.
Carol Tinkey, Mason City
Letter: Keep collection at the library
I am writing to express my strong opposition to the proposed “eviction” of the Genealogy Room at the Mason City Public Library. This Genealogy Room holds an extensive collection of genealogical materials including local, regional and state family histories, cemetery records and other related items of interest – gathered over many years. These materials are of great interest to people in the North Iowa and southern Minnesota areas. This collection is one of the most complete and most sophisticated of its type in Iowa and Minnesota. Many volunteers have spent hours collecting and collating these materials and have organized them into albums, journals and displays.
My granddaughter and I have spent hours there obtaining family records. It has been an educational experience for both of us. She, as a young girl, was able to learn of some of her ancestry and to establish a hobby of studying genealogy. I have often thought of how blessed we are to have such a wealth of information close to us in the Mason City Public Library.
It would be a shame, a tragedy to move this extensive collection to another location. Most likely, it would result in it being fragmented and located to multiple locations.
I am hopeful that the Library Board and the City Council will reconsider and give second thought in order to keep this very valuable Mason City resource in its current location.
Judy Evans, Mason City
Letter: Find a win-win solution with library
There seems to be a great deal of conflict surrounding the genealogy society's use of a room in the Mason City Public Library. The room has been in use for the past 40 years and is lauded as one of the great collections for persons searching for their ancestors. The service is used not only by locals but by many across the state of Iowa and internationally as well. Since the availability of tracing ancestors through DNA, the process has become a phenomenon worldwide.
The service of the society is not only widely known, it has the ability to provide necessary help required by those of us who need help and are not Internet-savvy. Placing this service on the Internet is not a viable solution because the society has the guidance of a valuable person to give help to those of us who need it. Let's face it: I still recall having to leave my comfortable chair to walk across the living room and turn the knob on the television to channels 3, 6 and 10.
I don't understand why this service, which is such a gem and a star in Mason City's history, can be closed without a win-win agreement. The library board meets at the library on Aug. 21 and is open to the public. Please attend to fight to keep this service that Mason City should be proud of.
Nancy Hewett, Mason City
Letter: Appalled by library's decision
I read with a heavy heart Steve Bohnel's article about the Mason City Public Library's decision to force the North Central Iowa Genealogical Society to move out of the public library building. As both a Mason City native and as a genealogist, I am appalled at the library's decision.
Public libraries all across the country -- small and large -- know that family history researchers are among their most important patrons and supporters. Libraries have changed a lot over the past half-century, but one thing remains the same -- it is a place people can go to get help with all kinds of research.
Small nonprofit genealogy societies like NCIGS really have few options. Many small genealogy and family history societies across the Midwest rely on public libraries and historical societies for their physical existence.
Yes, there is a lot on the internet, but family history researchers know that there is no substitute for getting help from local volunteers (and professional librarians) who know the local territory. What better place than a public library?
I am a director of the Minnesota Genealogical Society, a past president of MGS, and a past director of the Association of Professional Genealogists. I graduated from Mason City High School in 1968, and have always thought the Mason City Public Library was one of the best things about Mason City -- a real gem the Mason City should be proud of.
I hope there is a happy ending to this story.
Jay Fonkert, Roseville, Minnesota
Contact Steve at 641-421-0527 or on Twitter @Steve_Bohnel.