SUTHERLAND-William and Roma Woods must have really liked to read.
After all, if it wasn't for them, the Gen. N.B. Baker Library in Sutherland may not exist.
The Woods legacy
The Woodes began the first library in O'Brien County in their already crowded 16-by-18 foot log cabin during the fall of 1874.
As Sutherland did not yet exist, the cabin was located seven miles northwest of the former O'Brien County seat, Old O'Brien, which would have been situated between Sutherland and Peterson, and 14 miles southeast of Primghar.
But, before the library could be finalized, William was called away to Des Moines, where he made his vision known to an old friend whom he served under during the Civil War - Adj. Gen. Nathaniel B. Baker.
Baker was just as enthusiastic about starting a library in O'Brien County as William was, so the two worked together to form a constitution and bylaws. Within the first three weeks, the library had 39 subscribers, a meeting had been held in the cabin, officers were elected and the constitution and bylaws were adopted.
And, in turn for Baker's support and assistance to the Woods, the library was deemed the Gen. N.B. Baker Library.
Soon, the library subscribed to eight magazines: Littel's, Harper's, Schibner's, St. Nicholas, The Agriculturalist, Galaxy, Arthur's Magazine and Peterson's. Roma's friends from all over Iowa donated additional magazines and books, and patrons came from as far away as two dozen miles to check out material. Nonsubscribers could check out books for a 5-cent fee.
The next spring, a room was added onto the cabin and one wall of shelving was dedicated to the rapidly growing collection of reading material. Capital stock shares also were sold for $10, payable at 10 cents per year, which allowed for the purchase of additional books and magazines.
The library kept growing, until grasshoppers came in 1876 and only two subscribers could pay their fees. While the library did not close, it suffered until the Northwestern Railroad came through in 1880-81 and the town of Sutherland was established.
In turn, William and Roma, along with the library, moved to town, and business began to pick up once again.
As the librarians changed throughout the years, so did the location of the library, oftentimes ending up back at the Woodses' home, until it made its permanent residence at the abandoned "Little Schoolhouse" in 1924, with a bequest from the will of Roma.
The building was purchased from the Sutherland School District and was established as the Woods Memorial Building.
Mary Draper became involved with the Gen. N.B. Baker Library 25 years ago.
But, the Sutherland native's ambitions began long before that.
"Growing up, I spent lots of time at the library," Draper said. "I always wanted to be a librarian."
So, after graduating from Sutherland High School, Draper applied for a position. While there weren't any openings at the time, Draper later was hired as an assistant and took on the role of director a couple of years later.
During her time at the library, Draper has seen many changes take place.
In 1989, the library underwent a remodeling project, adding an elevator and making it handicap accessible.
In March of the same year, the library was inducted into the State Library of Iowa's Public Library Accreditation Program, becoming the first accredited library in O'Brien County, and joining 105 others in the state.
Computers were added later, and in November 1997, the library began offering the use of free Internet to all patrons.
Although Draper said the Gen. N.B. Baker Library is used quite a bit for a small town, libraries throughout the entire country have seen an increase in number of patrons as a result of the national economic downturn.
"A lot of people have let their computer access go at home and have begun borrowing books instead of buying them," Draper said.
Regardless, she still would like to see more residents take advantage of the amenities the library has to offer.
"We provide entertainment, education, access to whatever information you need, free computers and job help," Draper said.
This article appeared in the April 11, 2009 edition of The South O'Brien Sun.