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Update: Mason City library shouldn't house private genealogy collection, trustees say

Genealogy 1

Sandra Turner, librarian of the North Central Iowa Genealogical Society, looks through a book of local World War II news clippings while boxes of genealogical materials sit on the porch of her home in Mason City.

MASON CITY | The North Central Iowa Genealogical Society and its collection may be looking for a new home if it cannot reach a compromise with the Mason City Library Board of Trustees within the next month.

That comes after the trustees rejected the genealogical society’s counterproposal to remain housed in the library and established a subcommittee to meet with the society to discuss alternatives Tuesday afternoon during the library board meeting.

“Since this proposal has been rejected, then perhaps some other compromise can be derived at this point,” said Dennis Reidel, library board vice president, requesting the board president select three trustees to meet with the society ahead of the October meeting.

The North Central Iowa Genealogical Society, or NCIGS, counterproposal was presented and tabled for action at the library board’s August meeting to give trustees, especially those who weren’t present, time to review it.

Mason City library board to consider proposal after dozens plead to keep North Iowa's genealogy gem

According to the proposal, the society requested changing the room name to the "Genealogy and History Center," leaving the genealogy collection intact and under the control of the society, and being allowed to replace shelving that was removed. In turn, the society said it would pay $1,200 annually and provide educational classes on a monthly or as-needed basis.

"We are hoping to work out our differences, so whatever we agree on, we would like it to be a more permanent resolution," the society said in its proposal.

The counterproposal was made after Library Director Mary Markwalter stated in a news release that NCIGS could stay in its current location if the group forfeited ownership of its collection to the library.

NCIGS and its collection has been housed in the Mason City Public Library since 1979.

It's unclear why library officials want the club to relocate, but an eviction letter from Markwalter to NCIGS cited "changing space utilization needs of the library."

Similar to the library board’s August meeting, nearly 20 individuals, including those with NCIGS, attended Tuesday’s meeting in the second-floor boardroom.

Genealogy Society members plead with city council to help them stay in Mason City library

Nearly half of the individuals who spoke in support of the genealogical society urged Markwalter and the trustees to answer that question during public comment, which was held prior to the board’s vote on the matter.

“I think as a public that supports the library we have a right to know what the elephant in the room is, so that’s what I’m asking. What’s the real reason that they’re being asked to leave after 47 years,” said Midge Gaylor.

Markwalter, and trustees, declined to respond to such questions, stating they don’t answer questions during public comment sessions. 

Other residents who spoke during public comment criticized the library board and the library staff for their treatment of NCIGS and pleaded with them to keep the society in the library. 

“This has been dear to my heart because I’ve been at this since 1963, and I’m appalled, saddened and disheartened that the library board or the librarian do not recognize the treasure right under their nose,” said Dorothy Paul.

Another resident emphasized the importance of having the genealogical collection at the library, so they could be used for research.

“It belongs here,” she said.


Mason City Library Board Trustee Shelly Schmidt addresses concerns she has with the North Central Iowa Genealogical Society's proposal Tuesday afternoon during the board's meeting.

But library trustees disagreed.

Trustee Carrie Berg said although she values the genealogical society and its collection, she believes it should be housed in its own area because it’s an independent club.

“I just don’t feel a public library should house a private club, and that is what you are. You’re a club, and you’re using public resources for your electricity, your maintenance, your housekeeping, your internet, your webpages, and I just don’t feel that’s right,” she said.

Board President John Henry agreed stating he had some concern with the fact that NCIGS isn’t an organization of the city, yet it’s taking up space within a city building.

Trustee Shelly Schmidt said she’s willing to compromise with NCIGS, despite accusations and inaccuracies that have been thrown at the library board in recent weeks, but she’s concerned about the society’s request to keep its collection intact and in its control.

Overdue stay: Mason City library wants genealogy club searches removed from building

“That means that’s a private collection held in a public entity, public place and that can’t happen,” she said. “If that in and of itself cannot be discussed, compromised, I’m not interested in entertaining any discussions about a proposal of any sorts. To me, No. 3 is a deal-breaker alone.”

During the board discussion, trustees said they’ve felt attacked and disrespected by comments that have been made in public and on social media.

Reidel said comments made about staff in recent weeks have been “very, very inappropriate” and “upsetting.”

Discussion is expected to continue between the NCIGS board and library trustees, who on Tuesday approved the society staying in the library through Oct. 31.

The library board’s next meeting is 4:15 p.m. Oct. 16.

Letters to the editor on the North Central Iowa Genealogical Society

Reach Reporter Ashley Stewart at 641-421-0533. Follow her on Twitter at GGastewart.


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