Last year, more than 250,000 residents patronized the library

Ahwatukee’s first cultural institution is having a birthday.

Twenty-five years ago today, the long-awaited Ironwood Public Library opened its doors to a crowd of excited Ahwatukee residents.

On the morning of Oct. 26, 1991, a ribbon-cutting ceremony was led by head branch-manager Lupita Barron-Rios, the first of Ironwood’s seven chiefs, and then-Mayor Paul Johnson.

Less than a decade after Ahwatukee was annexed to Phoenix and became the most southern of the city’s 15 urban villages, the 35-square-mile community had its own library branch.

It replaced the Maricopa County Bookmobile that had been serving local residents and became the Phoenix Public Library’s 11th branch. 

In the ensuing 25 years, the 16,300-square-foot library at 4333 E. Chandler Blvd. has maintained its popularity while remaining abreast of the times and becoming one of the system’s five busiest branches.

Last year, more than 250,000 residents patronized it.

On Saturday, Ironwood’s history and future will be celebrated, starting with a 9:30 a.m. performance by the Desert Vista High School String Quartet.

That will be followed by an oral history of the library and then cake and refreshments provided by Ironwood’s active chapter of the Friends of Phoenix Public Library.

Among the invited guest speakers is Emma Collins, a former Ironwood Teen Council member who is now a circulation attendant at the Phoenix Public Library’s Mesquite Library Branch.

“I first tried to get involved at the library when I was 11 years old, when my older sister started volunteering at Ironwood. I was told you had to be 12, and I was so disappointed,” said Collins, now 22.

“As soon as I turned 12, I started volunteering and joined the Library Teen Council, which was responsible for putting on teen programming at Ironwood,” Collins recalled.

“I wanted to volunteer because I loved going to the library and just hanging out and going to programming with my friends. Volunteering seemed like a good excuse to spend more time at the library,” she said.

Following her 2012 graduation from Desert Vista High, Collins headed to Northern Arizona University, where she earned dual degrees in political science and environmental studies.

“I stayed with Ironwood throughout college because I enjoyed being able to be a part of my community even when I was going to school in a different city,” Collins said.

“I started working at Mesquite after graduation because working at the library is a great job to have while trying to figure out where I want to go in the future,” she added.

Her mother, Kristine Collins, is Ironwood’s library assistant, and her uncle, John Dallas Collins, is a library page at Phoenix’s Century Branch.

“I would love to be working at Ironwood, but we aren’t allowed to work with relatives,” said Emma Collins, who plans to pursue her master’s degree at Arizona State University.

Collins will be joined at Saturday’s birthday party by City Librarian Rita Hamilton; current Ironwood Branch Manager Lisa Tharp, who has served in that capacity for three years; Mayor Greg Stanton; and Ahwatukee author Anissa Stringer.

While a great deal has changed at Ironwood in the past 25 years, the building itself has not been expanded. But it has been remodeled to better serve teens and young children.

“With technology innovations and investments in eResources, library customers are able to access our eLibrary 24/7 through phoenixpubliclibrary.org,” said Phoenix Public Library spokeswoman Geraldine Hills.

Technology has accounted for many other changes as well.

Ironwood’s cassette and VCR tapes were weeded out and given to the Friends of Phoenix Public Library, who sold them to help fund various library programs.

“Our Collection Development Department is continually updating our collections with new technology and formats such as electronic books, music and audio books,” said Hills.

“We have more than 1 million items available for checkout, so you can reduce the amount of stuff at your house and simplify your life,” she added.

“Today, customers have so many more choices. They can check out an item, attend a program, download eBooks, stream movies, music or TV shows, read magazines and newspapers, do research or take an online class,” she continued.

And all this, she noted, is available with a free library card.

Events marking Ironwood’s 25th anniversary will be going on throughout the year. For more information, see PhoenixPublicLibrary.org or check event information posted inside Ironwood Library.

Current hours at Ironwood are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays, and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays. It remains closed on Fridays.

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