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Iowa Commission of Libraries would lose power to select state librarian, direct funds under government reorganization bill

Madeleine C King
The State Law Library is located in the Statehouse and is a part of the State Library of Iowa.

Librarians are raising concerns about one part of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ reorganization bill that the Iowa House sent to her desk last week.

Under the bill, the Iowa Commission of Libraries would no longer have its oversight power to select the state librarian, direct funds, and set priorities. Instead, the power would flow through the state librarian who would be appointed by the Department of Administrative Services director.

The State Library of Iowa provides local librarians with training and support, and has a network of resources Iowans can use. It also allocates federal and state money to local libraries. It's overseen by the Iowa Commission on Libraries.

Anne Mangano, collection services coordinator for the Iowa City Public Library, said these changes could also worsen transparency and lessen community input.

"The people who are on that commission are librarians, they're from school and public and academic librarians. They know what public libraries need. They're experts in the field. They can provide a lot of powerful input onto how that money is allocated and how public libraries can serve their communities," she said.

Sam Helmick, the president of the Iowa Library Association, said the state library could become political.

"Things like best practices, standardization, how we accredit libraries, and make sure that they're getting the appropriate amount of funding is a huge endeavor every single year from the State Library, and I'm a little concerned that if it becomes a political agency, things that that are important for intellectual freedom, information access, and intellectual standards will be at risk," they said.

Helmick said that could come as libraries are already facing political challenges, for example with book challenges.

"That potentiality exists, where we will no longer have reconsideration processes, we will no longer be able to self govern different different libraries in different different collections. And we were all kind of required to fit into this cookie cutter mold. I don't believe that is the intention. But that is how we were setting up the board for the game to be played," Helmick said.

The Iowa House passed the reorganization bill last week and has sent it to the governor's desk for her signature.

Catherine Wheeler was Iowa Public Radio's All Things Considered host and a reporter from 2021 to 2023.