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Iowa City Public Library director Lolly Eggers remembered for innovation, dedication to patrons
IOWA CITY - As unimaginable as it might seem for the thousands of Iowa City Public Library patrons who have browsed the building in the last four decades, there was a time when the future of the facility wasn't in downtown Iowa City.
Former library director Susan Craig said when it was time to build a new library in the late 1970s, the Chamber of Commerce didn't want valuable downtown space dedicated to the building. It was Lauretta 'Lolly” Eggers, the library's director at the time, who fought to keep the library downtown. The current location opened at 123 S. Linn St. in 1981.
'She influenced not just the public library, but the entire city of Iowa City,” said Craig, Eggers' longtime colleague and successor. 'I think the very fact that the library is in downtown Iowa City, she gets a lot of credit for that. It could have gone the other way.”
Eggers, 91, died Friday. Her work at the library spanned from 1969 to 1994, including 20 years as director.
Craig and Jeanette Carter, former head of the library's reference department, credit Eggers with creating a modern library that had a national reputation for excellence.
'She was just a remarkable person,” Carter said. 'When she took the job as director in '74, her goal in life was to make the library the best library in the country, and I think she did.”
According to her obituary, Eggers was born on Oct. 25, 1929, in Omaha, Neb., but grew up in Des Moines. She earned her bachelor's degree from Grinnell College in 1951 and moved to Iowa City that year with her husband, Del Eggers. After earning her master's degree in library science from the University of Iowa in 1969, Eggers joined the city library staff.
During her career, Eggers served as a reference librarian and acting head of adult services and led the technical processing department.
As director, Eggers helped to modernize the library. For instance, in 1980 the library became the first in the country to have a computerized checkout and catalog system.
The library was almost always 'ahead of the curve,” Craig said.
'She was very innovative,” Carter said. 'She encouraged everybody to be innovative. She introduced many programs, many services that were very helpful for the community.”
Craig said Eggers sought to have a collection that reflected the community and went beyond books - even if that put her at odds with city leaders.
'Lolly was very quiet, but with a core of steel in her,” Craig said. 'She was not a yeller ... What she fought with was statistics and planning and thoughtful observation. She really moved the Iowa City Public Library into being a very modern institution that was respected around the country.”
According to her obituary, Eggers also was active in women's rights and political action. As a member of the Iowa League of Women Voters, she helped to develop the city's first Fair Housing Act. In 1973, she filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint against the city, which led to the creation of specific practices and to ensure fair hiring and employment policies for women.
Eggers wrote 'A Century of Stories, The History of the Iowa City Public Library, 1986-1997” in 1997. Nine years later, she published 'Irving Weber, A Biography” about Iowa City's renowned historian.
While the Iowa City Public Library had a national reputation, Eggers' focus was always on the people she served and making an impact locally, Craig and Carter said.
'Local is what really mattered to her,” Craig said. 'She wanted to create an institution that served all of the people. The public good is what she wanted to achieve. If that meant not agreeing with the Chamber of Commerce or City Council, well, that's the way it goes.”
Eggers donated her body to the University of Iowa Deeded Body Program, and her burial will take place at a later date.
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