Idaho Falls Public Library 
457 W. Broadway 
Idaho Falls, ID 83402 
(208) 612-8460 
fax: (208) 612-8467 

Tuesday, September 02, 2014
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The Library Turns 25
A Silver Anniversary to Remember

2002 marked the 25th anniversary of the Idaho Falls Public Library's relocation to the current building on Broadway and Capitol.  The article below written by Gary Mills of the library staff outlines the history of the Idaho Falls Public Library. 


Early settlers of Eagle Rock understood the importance of a library and having access to books for the citizens. As early as 1884, Rebecca Mitchell started a reading room with 300-400 volumes in the Baptist Church. A short time later, in 1896, the Women's Christian Temperance Union developed a reading room "for the purpose of keeping young people away from saloons and pool halls."

The Carnegie building on the east side of the railroad tracks was originally built during 1914-15. (The building that now houses the Bonneville Museum) It opened with 2,000 books, 63 periodicals, and 420 cardholders. The building was expanded and remodeled with Public Works Administration funds for 70,000 dollars between 1938 and 1940 and held a collection of nearly 20,000. According to the Post Register, in 1954, "the library was recently equipped with an elevator large enough to hold one person and a truckload of books."

The library mirrored the growth of the community and by 1973 there were 80,000 items in the collection. However, the library could not physically continue to add to the collection or comfortably serve the patrons. In August of 1973, Library Director, Peter Ahlstrom stated "The air conditioner and electric typewriter can not be plugged in at the same time or a fuse will blow." In November of 1973, "Keith Sundberg, local architect, after studying 1914 and 1932 drawings of the Idaho Falls Public Library, told library director Peter Ahlstorm that the library floor is overloaded." Mr. Ahlstrom acknowledged the architect's findings by saying that "The bowing of the floor shows it is under stress."

In February 1974, Jeanne Goodrich was appointed as Library Director. She immediately began letting the community know of the need for an improved and expanded public library to replace the one designed to serve a population of 10,000. The library board announced the organization of a Citizens Committee for a New Library in June 1974. Members of that committee included: Conrad Bowan, Terry Crapo, Betty Haire, Lorna Hammond, Ralph Hartwell, Aden Hyde, Les Kiel, Rollie Leeper, Joyce Booman and Martha Kuhn. The City Council approved a $2.677 million bond election date of October 8, in August 1974. The proposed bonds were for a 46,300 square foot building and would be adequate for the next 20 years. It would have a capacity of 176,000 books. After considering several sites, the Site Selection Committee chose the current location of Broadway & Capital Avenue.

On October 9, 1974, the Post-Register announced that the bond for a new library was approved by 69% of those voting. Shortly after the bonds were approved, Sunberg and Associates were appointed as architects for the new library that had and continues to have the second largest collection and circulation in the State of Idaho.

Prior to groundbreaking, the Post Register ran an article quoting Lou Arave, "There are five or six bodies buried north of the railroad tracks not over 40 feet east of Capital Avenue in an old pioneer gravesite used between about 1878 and 1880. According to the article, the suspected bodies were rowdy cowboys and a woman and her baby. During excavation of the building, there is no record of remains being found. Groundbreaking ceremonies for the library were held on September 23, 1975. Low bidder for the project, Mitchell Construction of Pocatello started immediately on the building.

While the building was under construction, one newspaper article said, "The interior of the library will be decorated in cheerful tones of orange, gold, and bronze with furniture and woodwork in warm wood tones with brick accenting." Library staff are glad that most of the "cheerful toned" furniture has been discarded and bright colored walls have been painted over with neutral tones.

Completion of the building was delayed from the original date of June 1. The delay was attributed to rock found on the site. The Teton Dam Flood in 1976 was also cited as a cause of the delay in relation to construction work going on in the Rexburg area.

Although the move was only a few blocks down the street, it took several weeks to finish. Patrons were encouraged to check out armloads full of books and return them at the new location without any fines to help out the moving process. Doors to the building were open to the public on August 15, 1977; the official ribbon-cutting ceremony was held September 17th.

As the community began to use the new facility, Jimmy Carter had taken office earlier in the year, George W. Bush and Laura Welch were married, a first-class stamp cost 13 cents and inflation was 11 percent. Culturally, top selling books were Falconer, by John Cheever, Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison and Passion's Promise, by Danielle Steel. East Idahoan's were watching Saturday Night Fever, Star Wars, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind at the movies. Three's Company, Eight is Enough, and The Love Boa" were popular on television. Popular music in 1977 included: You Light up my Life by Debbie Boone, Hopelessly Devoted to You by Olivia Newton John and Staying Alive by the Bee Gees.

The building includes 42,000 square feet of finished space and 21,000 square feet of storage and expansion space. The Junior Department is now located in some of that expansion space. The building opened with 90,000 thousand books, 2,700 (vinyl) records, 13,000 pamphlets, 100 art prints and 3,000 volumes of periodicals. In addition, several typewriters were available for patron use, along with a microfilm reader-printer. In May of 1979, Mayor Tom Campbell received the first borrower's card for the new computerized circulation system at the library. Eventually, the public card catalog became computerized also.

"Adam and Eve" arrived at the Public Library in October of 1979! They came in the form of two Apple II microcomputers. Adam, a floating-point computer with printing capabilities and Eve, an integer computer were available for public use. According to the Post Register, "They have a 32K memory bank, run on disk drives, and can be programmed to almost anything."

Since opening the doors in 1977 the library has worked to provide quality library services to community with up-to-date methods. The next year will be spent seeking input from a variety of organizations and individuals for planning the Library's direction over the next twenty-five years. The goal of the library is to be responsive to community needs for information and recreational reading. Staff will be looking towards implementation of newer and more capable technology as well as expanding the collection available based on public interests.

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