Community

Iowa City's 'Library Lady' retiring after 28 years at ICPL

Natural curiosity has helped Maeve Clark guide patrons to information

Maeve Clark, adult services coordinator at the Iowa City Public Library, looks over questions submitted via email and li
Maeve Clark, adult services coordinator at the Iowa City Public Library, looks over questions submitted via email and live chat to “Ask a Librarian” while working the info desk on the second floor at the library in August 2016. Clark will retire on Jan. 3, 2020, after 28 years at the library, and a retirement reception will be held for her on Dec. 20 at 11 a.m. at the library. (Gazette photo)

IOWA CITY — On a mid-August day, a man visiting Iowa City wanted to identify the low, leafy plant he saw in the fields as he drove through the state with his wife.

He climbed to the second floor of the Iowa City Public Library, where Maeve Clark was waiting at the Information Desk.

“The people downstairs said you know everything,” Clark recounted the man saying.

After printing off a picture of soybean plants and confirming this was what the man saw, they discussed walking beans, custom hay baling, the Iowa State Fair, presidential candidates and how global climate change might affect agriculture.

Clark, 62, admits she doesn’t know everything, but as a reader, an information seeker and an enthusiastic question-asker, she loves helping library patrons find their own missing pieces. Clark, the Adult Services and Info Desk coordinator, will retire Jan. 3, 2020, after 28 years at the Iowa City library and nearly 35 years as a librarian in Iowa.

“Maeve is a very visible part of the library,” said Susan Craig, former ICPL director who retired in 2018. “Whether you’ve seen her at the Reference Desk, attended a program she emceed, heard her on the radio, seen her TV, or volunteered with her at a local nonprofit you recognize her as a ‘Library Lady’ whether or not you know her name.”

Clark grew up in Tipton, the daughter of a teacher/librarian and a newspaper owner.

“I was the youngest of five kids so I learned to read really early because there was always someone to read to me,” she said. She remembers parking on a red ottoman at the Tipton Public Library to read Dr. Suess books and looking at the slips of paper at the front of books to see which of her neighbors had read the books first.

After graduating with a University of Iowa degree in library and information science, Clark worked for public libraries in Ames and Dubuque before coming to the ICPL full time in 1992.

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One of Clark’s passions is collecting historical information about Iowa City. In her office, she has the rainbow of volumes produced by Iowa City historian Irving Weber. The library has digitized collections of Iowa City newspapers from 1840 to 1925, the Iowa City Press-Citizen since 1959, decades of Iowa City and UI phone books and school yearbooks and, more recently, Iowa City housing permit records.

“I remember helping somebody quite a few years ago with a question about her birth mother, who had been a UI student,” Clark said. “Through the yearbook, she was able to determine the woman (in the photo) was indeed her mother.”

Straying from the librarian stereotype of introversion, Clark often has been in the spotlight at library events.

For people who used to watch reruns of the Iowa City Spells spelling bee on public access television (or now on the library’s YouTube channel), Clark was the one blowing a slide whistle when spellers missed the mark and clapping plastic noisemakers for a correct spelling.

She calls bingo for kids at the library and solicited crafters for the Iowa City Arts and Crafts Bazaar last weekend. She also volunteers with Iowa City FilmScene and Friends of Historic Preservation, groups that will get more of her time after retirement.

“With Maeve you don’t have to figure out seven degrees of separation,” Craig said. “If you’re a local, it’s more like two or three. If you don’t know her, you know someone who does.”

There will be a retirement reception for Clark on Dec. 20 from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in the ICPL’s Meeting Room A. There will be a brief program at 12:15 p.m. and light refreshments will be served.

Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

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