Past, Present & Future

A Brief History of the Library

(Excerpted from the West Des Moines Library’s Grand Opening program–June, 1996.)

Modest Beginnings, 1934-1942

Valley Junction was founded more than a hundred years ago, but the community did not have library service until 1934. Thanks to the vision and energy of the charter members of the Valley Junction Civic Club (later the West Des Moines Women’s Club), the community’s first library opened in the home of Mrs. Dan Herron at 504 Sixth Street. The small library contained only 450 books, which were donated from personal collections. To finance the library, the Civic Club held Tag Days, Silver Teas, ice cream socials, candy sales, rummage sales, and concerts. Members also went door to door requesting cash donations.

Over the next twenty years, the library occupied five different locations, including two more private homes, the Longfellow School, the corner Bank Building, and the Old Security Bank Building.

West Des Moines Public Library building sketch

Changes and Growth, 1943-1995

The Civic Club continued to support the library, unaided until 1943, when the City Council agreed to provide funds to maintain the library, and appointed the first Library Board. Alice Mitchell was the first city-appointed librarian, serving until 1946. She was replaced by Nell DeBoest who retired twenty years later.

In 1954, the library was relocated to a room in the new City Hall at 318 Fifth Street. Approval of a $7,000 bond issue allowed the Library Board to construct a separate facility in 1966. The property at 1105 Grand Avenue was purchased from St. Mark Lutheran Church for $17,000, and a new 2,700 square foot public library was built, containing 20,000 volumes.

On March 5, 1974, voters approved a $378,000 bond issue for an addition to the Grand Avenue facility. Library Director Miriam Hansen and the Library Board hosted an open house to showcase the enlarged building that now provided 14,400 square feet and included a lower level. From 1972 through 1976, the library maintained a branch on Fifth Street.

A New Library, 1996

Twenty years after the last referendum, 77% of the voters passed a $6.95 million bond referendum to build a new library facility for West Des Moines. The West Des Moines Library Friends Foundation launched the Resource for Renewal campaign with a goal of $1.5 million for the expansion of the collection, enhancement of services, and updating of technology in the new library.

The new 51,000 square foot facility was completed in the spring of 1996 and the library opened on April 29, 1996. The library occupied about two-thirds of the building; the remaining space was used by City offices until a new City Hall was built in 2003. As of the Grand Opening, in June of 1996, the library contained 80,000 volumes–in 62 years, the collection had grown almost two hundred times! With a capacity of 220,000 volumes, the new facility is expected to serve the community for up to twenty years. By March of 2004, the library already contained over 162,000 items, including books, audio and visual media, public computing stations, and more.

In 2003, City government offices moved out when the current city hall was finished.  The Library moved into that space, moving collections and adding a new Teen-dedicated area and study and meeting rooms. 

Today at the Library

As of November, 2018, the library contains over 183,000 items, including books, magazines, puppets, audio, movies and more. We have also vastly expanded our available technology, offering a wide range of services, including online databases, word processing/Internet browsing stations, as well as access to popular e-content (eBooks, eAudiobooks, eComics, streaming video and more!).

In 2020, the WDM Library, like the rest of the world, faced challenges with the onset of the pandemic.  Our staff quickly pivoted to offering curbside holds pickup, virtual programming for adults and children, and more.  All this while the library building was under extensive renovations for the first time in many years. 

The extensive renovations to the WDM Library, which started in 2019, will be completed in the spring of 2021.  Over a 20+-month renovation, we will:

  • Update the paint scheme in the library, repairing cracks, holes and dents in the wall as we go;
  • Update the carpet, using patterns and colors to make it easier to differentiate one department of the library from another;
  • Add a dedicated Young Adult/teen area on the first floor. Most of it will be where the library cafe’ space used to be. The FRIENDS FOUNDATION is generously supporting this effort by donating half of the cost of construction;
  • Add more study and conference space;
  • Install new public furnishings;
  • Install new cubicles and workspaces for library staff; the office furniture in the building is 1996 original vintage.
Now Available: Valley Junction Activity Center - Outside 4th Street Entrance

In 2020, with a gift of almost $100,000 from the West Des Moines Public Library friends Foundation, a 24-Hour self-service kiosk was installed in Valley Junction outside the Fourth Street entrance of the Valley Junction Activity Center. The kiosk allows patrons with library cards to select, check out and return library materials after hours or on days when the library is closed. The installation of the kiosk in summer 2020 marked the first direct, on-site library service to Valley Junction since the closing of the Fifth Street Branch in 1975.

The Future of the West Des Moines Library

As West Des Moines grows and evolves geographically and in terms of population, the library will grow along with it. In the next ten years, the library will be reviewing and working with the residents of West Des Moines to explore:

  • The feasibility of and appropriate locations for further outreach and off-site locations and/or library branches, with further exploration of kiosks, mobile services and other service models;
  • How the library can more closely and thoroughly support the educational efforts of public, private and alternative schools in the community;
  • Ways to carry library cultural programming out into the community, better serving where we are and who we are, with an eye on being inclusive and interpersonally enlightening as well as educational and factually interesting. 


Watch for the newly renovated spaces in the WDM Library to launch in Spring of 2021! 

You can also read the current Library Strategic Plan for an overview of the Library’s current goals.