A Librarian and a Writer (1929-2021)

Lolly Eggers (1920-2021)

“Oh, no, not Lolly!” How could Lolly die?

It may be disrespectful of me to call her Lolly, but I feel I know her from her wonderful book, A Century of Stories, The History of the Iowa City Public Library, 1896-1997. It is more than local history: it traces changes in American public libraries over a century.

I was sorry to read of Lolly’s death. Since my mother died, it has behooved me to check periodically online to see if her peers are alive. Lolly, 91, was one of the last. And so I feel a little dazed.

Growing up, I was vaguely aware of Lolly. She was the mother of a schoolmate, which automatically made her boring; she was also the co-volunteer teacher of a somewhat saucy Junior Great Books group (none of us read Treasure Island, and we were dismissed). Then she finished an MFA and got a job at the public library . Unbeknownst to me until a few years ago, she was the director of the Iowa City Public Library for 20 years, 1974-1994. She lobbied to keep the library downtown when the Chamber of Commerce wanted to oust the library and use the space for businesses. And in 1980, under her watch, the I.C. library became the first in the country to have a computerized checkout and catalog system.

Iowa City Public Library

When I read about someone like Lolly, it makes me wish I were more like her. From birth (almost!) I was an avid reader, but I never planned a career. The library was within walking distance, and every week I checked out favorite books by Agatha Christie, Thomas Hardy, Elizabeth Goudge, Rumer Godden, Kurt Vonnegut, Chaim Potok, Ira Levin, The Forsyte Saga, Fear of Flying, and let us not forget The Robe (the movie was practically required Easter TV ).

While I was reading everything in sight in girlhood, Lolly belonged to a book club that read Japanese literature. And when her kids were older she returned to school to to get that practical degree, an MLS, which she finished in 1969. If I had not stuck so firmly to the liberal arts and ignored the possibility that I would one day work, I might have followed Lolly’s example. It would have been stable, if not exciting.

Lolly Eggers

Her colleague, former library director Susan Craig, told the Cedar Rapids Gazette: “Lolly was very quiet, but with a core of steel in her. 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.”

Lolly was a history buff. In a video interview, she suggested someone should write a history of the small grocery stores. My grandmother and I used to enjoy going to Whiteway, which was downtown, across from the campus. Sometimes she had groceries delivered. And then one day Whiteway was gone. The small stores disappeared.

Lolly also wrote Irving Weber, A Biography. Weber was a local historian. There is a statue of him downtown.

So where is the statue of Lolly? In the works, I hope.