New library represents strong union between College, community

Drake Community Library Sign "I believe the library is the heart of a town. The heart of a library is its citizens."

Those words, spoken by Sue Ratcliff Drake '58 at the groundbreaking of the city of Grinnell's new Drake Community Library last spring, highlight the important role a library can have in the lives of the people it serves. Libraries today are in a unique position in our radically changing information environment, and the Drake Library is well prepared to serve its community in a variety of ways.

The new library is named for Sue and her husband, former Grinnell College President George Drake '56, in honor of their longtime support of the town's public library. The Drake Community Library will replace Stewart Library, where space has long been a problem. Library users will see many new features, including a large community room the public can use for meetings or other group events. A variety of spaces will be available for both group and individual study, including 12 computer workstations, as well as a children's area and a space for teenagers. "Serving families is a really important part of our mission," says city of Grinnell librarian Lorna Caulkins.

The library also represents a strong connection between Grinnell College and the wider community. The College contributed the land on the corner of Park Street and Fifth Avenue and made a significant cash gift at the beginning of the project. Faculty, staff, alumni, and others connected to the College have been working very hard on fundraising, a process that will continue as the library approaches its opening, likely in September or October 2009. George and Sue Drake have been especially involved in the fundraising, and the choice to name the library after the Drake family shows the strong bond between the College and the city of Grinnell.

Grinnell College faculty and Burling Library staff were also active in public meetings that provided a forum for dialogue on how the library should best serve the whole community. These meetings addressed various aspects of the library and ranged from architectural presentations to needs assessments for the schools. "The library will be a real asset to the College as well as to the community at large," says George Drake.

Both Drake and Caulkins hope Grinnell College students will use the new library as a place to study. "It's a lot closer to campus than Stewart, so it will be more on the students' radar," says Caulkins. "It could provide a good alternate space to do their work."

Grinnell College students can obtain a library card and check out items from the public library, which has a very different collection than that of Burling Library. "They have many things Burling doesn't have; people would be surprised," says Grinnell College Archivist Catherine Rod. "We often send students there who are looking for science fiction, mysteries, cookbooks, current bestsellers, or how-to-books."

The public library also has an extensive local history collection. "We'll have much more space and better conditions to store it," says Caulkins. She also noted that education students are especially interested in the public library's children's collection.

At the groundbreaking ceremony on May 29, 2008, Sue Drake expressed excitement. "Our citizens, especially the youth, will continue the visionary growth of Grinnell -- even more so because of their access to our new, updated, expanded library."