Friday, October 2, 2015

West Liberty, Iowa

When I saw a set of bike sculptures in front of the Carnegie Library in West Liberty, I thought maybe they had been put up by someone anticipating my arrival. It wasn't likely, as the last two Carnegies on my route were no longer libraries, so no one within the last one hundred miles could have alerted West Liberty to me and my quest, as happened in Indiana last spring.

My first question for the librarian, rather than "Do I need a password for your WIFI?," was, "What's the significance of the bike sculptures out front?"  Several of the librarians had ridden RAGBRAI this past July as a fund raiser for the library and the sculptures brought attention to their endeavor.  They raised over $5000 from pledges and also the sale of T-shirts. There was one on display on the circulation desk along with a photo of the four librarians and a city councilman who participated in the ride.

I figured the library would have at least a couple of the several books written about RAGBRAI.  None were on display, so I asked where the 700 section was.  "We no longer use the Dewey Decimal System," I was told.  "We file things by subject.  I'll show you where our bike books are."

Not all were grouped together, as personal accounts were in the biography section.  There were two about people who had ridden coast-to-coast, one of which I had read, but curiously none on RAGBRAI, especially since the librarian I  was talking to had ridden RAGBRAI five times and was the inspiration for the others to do it. She had also just read the recently published "Gironimo!" on the 1914 Giro d'Italia that I am eager to read.  There was enough local bike interest for the library's copy to be checked out.  She was aware of my friend Greg Borzo's 2013 book laden with photos on the history of RAGBRAI, but hadn't acquired it.  She checked the holdings of other Iowa libraries and could find only one that had a copy of it.  

She wasn't all that surprised, as she explained that RAGBRAI isn't as popular within the state as out-of-staters might think, as many Iowans are turned off by some of the rowdiness associated with it.  There are those who ride it once and say they'll never do it again.  I asked if she knew my friend Kathy, who has ridden it many times with a schnauzer.  "Of course, everybody knows her," she said.  "She's so popular that she charges people to take her photo with her dog and gives the money to a charity, an animal shelter."

I hadn't noticed Carnegie's portrait and asked if they had one.  It was high above the elevator facing the library's new entrance.  The library had been expanded in 2001, extending it off to the left without it appearing to be an addition.

To the right of the original entrance there was a cabinet with books for trade.  

It was a replica of such cabinets known as "Little Free Lbraries" offered by  They sell kits ranging from $150 to $1000. Janina has several neighbors out in LaGrange with such contraptions in front of their homes.  This was built by a local craftsman.  He had made six of them, all of different designs.  They were scattered around town in parks and other public places.  The library stocks them with discards and donated books.  The librarian acknowledged that not everyone trades a book for a book as is encouraged, so sometimes their stocks begin to wane, but she was just happy that people were availing themselves of the books.  They used to have extra "Oprah" books to spread around, as for a couple year period early in her program they would receive a monthly batch of twelve hard-back copies of her latest selection.  She also had strong words of commendation for Bill Gates.  He had made it possible for her libary and countless others to join the Internet age.  Without his generosity they would not have been able to afford computers.  She felt almost as much goodwill towards him as she did for Carnegie.

Our conversation went on for so long talking of books and bikes, my legs began to tire and I had to apologize that I needed to sit. I had been pushing into a strong head wind the past three days, partially thanks to hurricane Joaquim brewing in the Caribbean, blasting a cold wind out of the east.  I had wanted to make it back to Chicago by the end of the month to help my roommate clear out of our apartment, as our landlord had sold our building to a developer and we were being evicted.  I had moved out most of my stuff before I left for Telluride, but had left a few minor items behind, mostly posters and pictures.  Debbie had gained permission from the new landlord to leave such things in the basement through the weekend as long as everything was out of our apartment.  I was sorry the winds were preventing me from helping her complete her move.

I had extended my mileage a bit by swinging up to the college town and state capital, Iowa City, for its Carnegie.  It had been a dandy, but had been converted into five apartments catering to students. It had lost its luster and wasn't particularly well-maintained.  The grounds around it were strewn with cigarette butts.  It was on the fringe of the campus, across the street from the new large glassy library.  A large number of students were wearing Iowa sweatshirts in the chilly fifty degree temperature, that had me in tights for the first time on this trip.

I had to push directly into the northeast wind for over fifty miles from the previous Carnegie in Sigourney.  It was in the process of being converted into a residence even though it still had a canopy with "Library" on it over its entrance.  The new library on the outskirts of the town had little more character than a warehouse.  The librarian spoke with great nostalgia for what a fine place it had been to spend her days.

West Liberty would be the last of my Carnegies in Iowa, as the one in Davenport, where I would cross the Mississippi back into Illinois, had been demolished.  That left me with an even dozen in Iowa, two more than on my crossing two years ago.  That leaves me with seventy-six more to track down in the state.  There had been 108, but ten are no more.

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