February 17, 2018

LaWanda C. Roudebush | Movers & Shakers 2002

Libraries Revitalize Communities

“She doesn’t just see opportunity, she seizes it”

As part of their presentation in June 2001 for the National Civic League’s All American City Award in Atlanta, the team from Fort Dodge, IA, used a live downlink to their new library. LaWanda Roudebush, the library director, was onstage as a member of the team. “When the link went live, I expected to see 200 people or so,” Roudebush says. “Imagine my surprise when I saw more than 1200 people waving and smiling, showing their enthusiasm for our library. It certainly was a high point in my career.”

To those who know Roudebush, it shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise. She has made a career out of connecting libraries with their communities–often at times when library services were most vitally needed.

Roudebush was the business librarian at Iowa’s Davenport Public Library in the late 1980s, when the city was experiencing an economic downturn. To help workers caught in the recession, Roudebush reached out to plants that were closing, offering résumé writing and job search skills. She created a job information collection and expanded the library’s newspaper collection. “It soon became obvious that what many of the workers needed were literacy skills,” Roudebush says. So she created a partnership with a local community college to provide tutoring and sought grants to expand the program. As a result, the library’s learning center opened in 1989, dedicated by Barbara Bush.

“LaWanda doesn’t just see an opportunity, she seizes it,” says Kay Runge, the former director of the Davenport PL. “She has the ability to develop great community relationships and that makes all the difference.”


Current position: Director, Fort Dodge Public Library, IA

Degree: MLS, Kent State University, OH, 1968

Favorite pastime: Singing in her church choir

Volunteer work: Helped create a Diversity Café at Fort Dodge’s recent Fall Fest, featuring food and music from the city’s 32 different

Fort Dodge was a city recovering from its own economic slum when Roudebush arrived in 1999. “Will the last person who leaves Fort Dodge please shut off the lights,” a comment made by radio commentator Paul Harvey, summed up the city’s situation. Roudebush–who had built a new library while serving as assistant director of the Indian Prairie Public Library District in Illinois–was soon involved in the creation of Fort Dodge’s new library, to be prominently located on the city’s square.

The $5.4 million, 34,000 square foot facility opened in December 2001, replacing a 12,000 square foot building dating from 1902. The library features not just state-of-the-art Internet access but also a 100-seat auditorium with a fiberoptic connection to the Iowa Community Network for the support of distance learning. “Now, the community sees us as not just a storehouse of information but as a link to the rest of the world,” Roudebush says.

Since moving into their new library, Roudebush and her staff have been busy developing programs and services to keep the library connected to the community. A health education series brings doctors from a local hospital to speak to the public. A “Reading Renaissance Festival” in early June has the library partnering with several agencies to kick off a summer reading program for all ages. A Library Services and Technology Act grant will support an intergenerational literacy program. “We are succeeding,” says Roudebush. “We’families. And we’re seeing greater diversity in the library than ever before.”

Roudebush grew up in a small town in northeast Arkansas, a place “that didn’t have great expectations for women.” Like many librarians, her world was changed by her grade school visits to her local library. “That’s why I’m here,” she says, “so that I can help others broaden their world.”