On my way out of Colorado, I decided to camp a couple of nights at Dinosaur National Monument. The park itself is mind blowing with the diverse collection of geological wonders, including a wall of dinosaur bone specimens that would send any ten-year-old kid into fits of glee. The park also features an auto tour where you can drive and stop at various spots of historical interest, including ancient Native American glyphs and this cabin, pictured above, which belonged to an extraordinary woman, Josie Bassett.
Josie was a badass. Josie came from what was at the turn of the 20th Century a very unconventional family. They taught her skills that most people would at the time only show boys, including riding and roping, shooting, and cattle raising. This same family was, at one point rumored to have helped Butch Cassidy and his fellow outlaws. In 1913, after living through five marriages, (one widowhood and four divorces-very unusual for the times), she decided, at age 40, to homestead. She grew her own vegetables. She butchered her own meat. She didn't have any utilities. She wore pants, not skirts. She cut her hair (curly, red, natch) short. She roundly pissed off the establishment in the nearby towns. She lived at her pad until 1963-that's fifty years of, what we would say in the 21st Century, living off the grid. You go, gurrrrl.
I went to Steamboat Springs' Bud Werner Memorial Library on a Saturday. The place was hopping! It did my soul well to go into a library that was clearly so loved and used by its community. According to the Census, Steamboat has only a little over 12k people, but the library is large, varied and top-of-the-line. I was lucky to find a parking space.
It featured many things that other libraries only dream of having. A café, outdoor meeting areas, a large number of patron computers, a historical collection complete with microfilm reader, large table and numerous tomes, and nooks and crannies to seduce any reader to come and stay. The floor was even stylized to show topographic elevation lines. Behind a case was old skiing equipment to remind the reader just what Steamboat Springs was built on. A lovely oasis of learning amidst a part of Colorado that is somewhat devoid of population.
Everybody says St. Louis is the Gateway to the West. Not for me, at least not on my trip. I knew things were changing when I rolled into Valentine. I noticed right away it had a National Parks office, my first so far. (Niobrara National Scenic River is nearby. The park ranger, Ms. Maxwell, told me it had a bison overlook, among other things.) I camped that night in an area known for its ancient sand dunes, now curtailed by a layer of prairie. It was windswept. It was brown. It was western.
I did find a library, by the way. A lovely, new one, complete with a fireplace and an interesting floor layout. The librarians were professional, if not exactly friendly. The weird thing about it is I actually went into the building next door, which also has a sign that says "library" on the outside. When I asked the librarian, he told me that the other building is actually a book depository now. I guess you have to live there to know that. (The first image below is Not the Library. Really.)
I’ve been driving around in a part of the country that isn’t very populated. There aren’t a lot of libraries to check out. I will be posting soon my experiences with the ones I have come across. However, since I’ve been pouring on the mileage, I’ve been ruminating about one of the single biggest challenges I’ve come across as a traveler. I have taken back roads and gone into communities that are not on the Interstates, not on the general radar of the country as a whole. I have experienced first hand the challenges that face these communities in terms of commerce infrastructure in the 21st Century, namely access to the internet.
America thrives on business. Commerce is what has driven our economy for centuries. Those back roads I have driven may have started as Native American trails, or covered wagon roads, or even a clear path for a rancher to drive his cattle. Later on in the 20th Century these paths and rudimentary roads became paved, paid for as the federal and state governments recognized the value of easy transportation and its relationship to increased commerce. By mid-century the Interstate system replaced these back roads and linked the bigger cities by literally increasing the speed of commerce, while unfortunately impeding the growth of those cities and towns that were unfortunate enough not to have easy access to the Interstates, engendering an unfortunate reality of decline among smaller communities.
This model stayed the same until the advancement of the Internet Age. On the surface, the Internet has fueled explosive growth and commerce on a global scale. A person in suburban Chicago can now order their groceries online and receive them only hours later, in some cases without paying for shipping. But that is in a metropolis whose people have access to the high end of everything, including high speed LTE cellular wifi, among other things. As I’ve said before, this service in particular is severely limited and usually only available to smaller communities who cater to the well-heeled (like this small town ski community of Steamboat Springs, Colorado I am staying in right now…). People who live in smaller communities don't necessarily have these options. A lot of these communities still don't have decent 3G coverage, much less LTE, so having a smartphone is out. They pay a premium for wired-based home internet access too. This further illustrates why libraries should be encouraged and funded for not only internet accessibility, but also funded to stay open more often.
Internet access is the infrastructure challenge of this century, and having public access to it can make or break a community in the long run. Libraries should not underestimate their importance in serving their community as a node of public access. Communities should not rely on the private sector, i.e. McDonald’s or Starbucks to provide access, because as lovely as it is checking your email and downing a Frappuccino is, you are expected to move on after you take your final sip or have eaten your last bite of your Quarter Pounder. (I saw a sign in a McDonald’s in Englewood, Colorado that expressly forbade people from taking over a table longer than thirty minutes.) I also know first hand that a lot of communities don’t even have chain restaurants. I didn’t see a single McDonald’s or Starbucks in the whole of South Dakota (gasp!). Plus, there is always the issue that the private sector can be data mining and/or just watching what you surf. I’m not saying that public libraries are the safest place for wifi usage, I’m just pointing out the fact that public libraries are not in it to make a buck; It is not in their interest to monitor wifi usage.
So, I hope I’ve made my case for continued support and the need for freely available wifi. My next essay will be on how the heck communities can pay for it.
A few weeks ago (I know, I'm backed up...) I driving was driving around close to the Wisconsin border and by happenstance tuned into this broadcast, discussing the relevance of public libraries in the 21st Century and their future. It is eerie how sometimes the radio knows what your interests are. I'm sorry I didn't post this before their comments section closed.
I went to Mount Rushmore. Saw the presidents. Took the required selfie. Unfortunately, dogs weren't allowed, so Mavis snoozed in the car (a covered parking lot, so she was nice and comfy). Yes, I was looking for Cary Grant everywhere. No dice.
You too can have your picture with the presidents! Learn about my Mount Rushmore incentive on my GoFundMe page.
Mavis can't see 'em, but likes being downwind of bison/buffalo. Coincidentally, both of them enjoy eating grass. Guess which one of them gets sick from it.
Camping at the Badlands National Park didn't cost me nuthin' not including my National Parks pass. I didn't have running water and had to get to the campsite via a very-washboarded gravel road, but it was well worth it. We were down from a prairie dog colony where we could hear the squeaks at night, and also had the company of two-to-three bison. They blithely walked through the campground as if nothing was in their way, and you know, they were right!
I set out on this project, in part, to promote small libraries and celebrate what makes them special to their communities. In most cases I have been successful. However, I have noticed a disturbing trend. While moving west, I repeatedly kept on missing out on the opportunity to speak on many small libraries’ behalf, mostly because they were closed at the time. Small communities struggle with many municipal funding issues and small libraries suffer the consequences. Communities with populations everywhere from 50 to 5000 are lucky to have a library, usually the storefront model, and I am glad they are around. However, I don’t understand how they survive. Many of them can only afford one to two people working for them, so they suffer from erratic hours: Closed Mondays. Open Tuesdays 9-1. Open Wednesdays 5-9. Open Thursdays 1-6….you get the idea. This does not build community cohesion and promotes library indifference. I can hear the patrons asking themselves (especially if they’re not usual customers): “When is that library open? Should I call? Look it up online? Nah, I’ll just watch a movie tonight.” I also noticed that in many small towns these are the only places where someone can obtain freely available wifi and/or any internet access. When I say freely, I mean they don’t have to sit in a coffee shop and buy coffee or a muffin in order to utilize the proprietor’s for-profit wifi, which I noticed was the only alternative in some of these communities. Internet service is not cheap, even more so in places without a competitive marketplace, and many people in these communities have tight budgets, so having their own access is a luxury that sometimes these families can’t afford.
As I moved towards other states, most notably South Dakota, I became aware that libraries weren’t even on the map. Literally. You know those blue signs that feature an icon of a person reading a book with an arrow pointing to where a library is?
As far as I can tell, they don’t exist in South Dakota. I would do my due diligence and tool around the main streets of towns big and small and only in rare occasions would I find the library, which, naturally, was closed. I drove around Rapid City’s downtown and finally gave up after a good half-hour. Why didn’t I look this stuff up before I drove in? Well, honestly, I would have loved to. But…I didn’t have wifi! (Oh, and yes, I did try the Chamber of Commerce thing too, to ask them where the library was…but they were closed in most cases as well. Furthermore, my crappy cell service *I’m looking at you CREDO/Sprint* hasn’t had LTE internet service since I left the suburbs of Chicago.) I am writing this to you from a hotel room which I had to pay for because I hadn’t had access to the internet for 48 hours straight. (That, and it was in the 30’s last night…)
Do I have a quick answer for this problem? No, I don’t. I can whine all I like about the lack of wifi on the road, but that’s not going to put money into the budgets of small libraries. Small communities aren’t going to put any more money into their libraries. It’s up to the states and federal government in most cases, and unfortunately we, as librarians, are losing those battles too. I have one idea, not a new one mind you, but it’s an idea….
More to come.
I'm nearly two weeks into my project now, and I think it has been quite successful! I've met a lot of great people, experienced some amazing things, and am looking forward to many more. If you are interested in contributing to my campaign, please see my GoFundMe donor link. No amount is too little, and I sincerely appreciate it!
Today's batch of thank-yous go to three people. The first is Dion Shaw. Dion and I go wayyyy back to the beginning of time almost, (we were friends in high school and later dated). Since then, we have parted ways but through the miracle that is social media, we've reconnected. It seems Dion has been busy. He has a master's degree in Project Management and is currently the Founder and Owner of one philanthropic website, MSCreations.org as well as another website, Homepreneurs.net. He's also a major Cubs fan. Thanks for your continued support, Dion!
My next is my cousin Matthew Lorenz. Matt graduated with a degree in Hospitality Management from the University of New Orleans and is now working for a major waffle-making corporation. In fact, right about now he is probably busy driving all over the mid-southern states distributing waffle mixes, waffle irons, and associated parts and accessories to hotels, motels, and other breakfast-loving environs. How many people can put that on a CV? Thanks for your help, Matt!
Finally, my next benefactor is Richard Katz. Richard, or Mr. Katz (as I can't quite call him Richard), was our neighbor when I was growing up in Oak Park. Mr. Katz and his family have been good friends of my family for decades now. Mr. Katz is a triple-threat (or should I say treat?) in that he is a licensed architect, attorney, and real estate professional. He is a major Oak Park booster, and all-around fabulous guy to know. I am sincerely humbled and thankful for your gift and continued support, Richard! (See? I can say it!)
The City of O'Neill has a lot to be proud of. In a community that boasts a community center, a VFW Hall, a city hall, a rodeo, and many churches, O'Neill's Public Library is becoming the de facto gathering place. I came into the library on Halloween afternoon. The director and circulation librarian were decked out in Wizard of Oz costumes. "You missed it.." the director, dressed as the Wicked Witch of the West smiled at me. I looked inquisitively at her, "you missed the Halloween events". Ahhhhh.
Over the weekend, the library had hosted a Wizard of Oz-themed indoors Trick or Treating session. Groups from the town (businesses, school groups, etc.) came in, set up tables and kids trick or treated from one table to the next while following a yellow brick road. This event drew about 340 kids last year. This year it drew 500. Not bad for a community of 3,653.
The director, Jeannie Mejstrik, said that parents were very grateful that it was held over the weekend and was therefore easier to fit in their schedules. She also noted that a lot of them had never been to the library before, so events like this are boons to future growth and community involvement. Jeannie has only been at the library for a year or so, having moved from Toronto, Ontario, but she told me a lot about her future plans and additions she'd like to see to the website (which is she's tweeking) as well as other enticements to get the library on the community's radar. So far, she's doing a great job!
Mavis sniffs Bassett, Nebraska. She thinks the spelling is incorrect, though.
Dyersville, Iowa has a population only slightly higher than Galena, with around 4,058 people, however the flavor and approach to their library, The James Kennedy Public Library, is vastly different. I noticed with the Galena Library that their shelves were highly weeded, Dyersville, not so much. I'm guessing it is partly because Dyersville is part of a smaller county-wide consortium of inter-library loaning libraries. According to the assistant library director, Dawn Schrandtthey only have four within their county to freely exchange before going to the higher-tiered inter-library loan authorities such as Iowa's SILO program and the wider OCLC FirstSearch (the professional side of the public WorldCat.org) with whereas Galena is a part of the RAILS system which has numbers closer to 50. I'm just guessing though. Whereas Galena had an early 20th Century feel to it, Dyersville is all modern, having only been built 12 years ago mostly due to an enormous naming donation given to them by the local banker James Kennedy and his family. It is because of this gift they received the naming rights to a library that before then was named after the benefactor of the original library, Monsignor Hoffman. (They named their new major meeting space after Mnsgr. Hoffman instead.)
Everything in this library is tied to the community. The library prides itself in incorporating aspects of Dyersville's business life directly into library through partnerships with the local business establishments to provide services such as well appointed meeting room space, hosting of events, etc. The library is, in turn the focal point of the community. The day after I was scheduled to leave, the library was having a Trick or Treating event that was scheduled in tandem with all the other businesses up and down the main street. They expected upwards of 75 kids. Some cool community programs included a fundraiser for the library that involved local artisans creating art, usually by painting, upon the older chairs in the library and then putting up for contest to see which was most popular by the patrons. The chairs are later sold. I also noticed a walk-a-thon. People in the community were logging how many steps they were taking daily and then it was tracked on a map showing the mileage the town was getting. They currently made it to New York City.
Through supporting their library, the citizens of Dyersville have a common goal in securing their future growth. A lovely place!
I love the happenstance of the road. I was driving around Le Mars, Iowa, looking for a place for Mavis to do her thing on and found this awesome kid's playground. I have an eight-year-old nephew and I guess through him I have a greater appreciation for cool playgrounds. I used to live in Oak Park, Illinois, a place that has awesome playgrounds but also has the funding ability to switch out the equipment seemingly every five years. I always thought they were cool. However, after I saw this playground in Le Mars I realized how homogenized and kind of uninspired those Oak Park playgrounds really are.
The playground in Le Mars' Cleveland Park looks handmade, fun and friendly. If you're ever in Northwestern Iowa, check it out!
Honestly, I haven't cared about professional baseball in years. I used to be a big Cubs fan when I was a kid and into my teens, but I lost it later after a string of strikes exposed the vast underbelly of greed and money that floated to the upper management, owners, and some players, leaving the vast majority of those involved in the sport underpaid in contrast to the money intake. The same can be applied to other major sports too. Since then, the games have just seemed to become more obscene, money-wise. I guess I'm not a professional sports fan.
However, what lingered is the idea of the Lovable Losers. Up to now the Cubs were, well, the Cubs, regardless of how much money their star players made, I always assumed they would never "make it". They were the Cubs, man! I even bonded with Cleveland Indian fans over the years, as they too had a lackluster history of going to the Big Dance. I never, ever thought they'd be matched up. Secretly, I had hoped that if the Cubs ever made it to the Series, they'd be up against the Yankees or some such. Then I could really cheer them on. It's been my experience that not a lot of people outside of the Triborough Area of New York really cheer for the Yankees.
So I guess my point is, as much as I would love to see the Cubs take the series, which as of this writing is a kind of dim hope, I won't be ultra disappointed in their loss. I will also be happy for my Tribe friends. They'd deserve it, man.
I needed to get off of the road to get some gas and let the dog have a walk. I noticed that the Field of Dreams was nearby-the actual cornfield and baseball diamond that the 1989 Kevin Costner movie was filmed at. My inner movie geek jumped for joy. I followed the signs through Dyersville and found myself at the movie site. It looked much like it did when it was filmed although we were informed that the the telephone wires running directly through the ball field were removed for the filming (then returned). Mavis enjoyed the smells and peed on the diamond. I talked briefly with Cindy, the lady behind the souvenir stand, and she told me to look for a few things including the heart located at the top of the stands with a "Ray Loves Annie" (characters from the film) carved upon it. Aww. I noticed when we were leaving that a brother and sister were playing catch from the pitcher's mound and home plate. Field of Dreams, indeed.
It took me all of a few minutes to get across via the bridge at Dubuque, but the Mighty Mississippi is nothing to sneeze at. Being the history geek that I am I imagined a time when you had to take a boat to get across before engineers like William Sooy Smith (buried at Forest Home Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois) perfected the steel that would span its banks. It is the father of waters in North America; the premier geologic watershed as well as major artery of commerce. Battles have been fought for control of it, most notably by the before-mentioned General Grant in the Siege of Vicksburg campaign of 1863. It separates the designation of call letters for television and radio stations around the country-east of the Mississippi broadcaster call letters start with a W and west of the river they start with a K. The Mississippi is the means by which species known as Asian Carp were introduced to places like the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.
These are the things I think of as I cross the river. Mavis snores in the back.
Galena, Illinois is a pretty town. Nestled in the bluffs of the Galena River, Galena is renowned for its mid-Nineteenth Century architecture, its quaint shops, and its history. It was once the home, albeit briefly, of Ulysses S. Grant, future Commanding General of the Union Army and later 18th President of the United States. He lived here for about a year before serving in the Civil War. Galena considers him their favorite son.
The library is a Carnegie delight. For those not in the know, around the turn of the Twentieth Century, multimillionaire industrialist Andrew Carnegie set up a fund to construct libraries primarily around the United States and in his home country of Scotland. This particular one is a Beaux Arts design, sitting up atop a hill, looking down majestically upon the community it serves.
I got to chatting with Linda Klug and Colleen Keleher, librarians who were manning the front desk that afternoon. They both seemed to be in awe of their surroundings, even after many years working there. They liked their library a lot, showing me the different cool things the library has that others may not, including a shelving unit of ornate iron design work from the original library (this is the second building) a cozy seating area with original woodwork and accompanying fireplace all the way up to an electronics charging station that featured all the major plug-ins to the latest gadgets. The library shelves were strewn with objet d'art including busts of famous writers, ancient Roman architectural features, maps, the Eiffel Tower... Probably the coolest thing though is something called a Quartoscope. It is essentially a machine which after you've inserted a coin, (though it's free now) you'd put your eyes to the viewer and it projects pictures of people and places throughout history, randomly selected. Kind of like a 1890's version of Google Images I'm Feeling Lucky. As to their circulating collections, they had all the necessaries, including books, eBooks, DVDs, audio CDs, playaways and the like. Near the end of our conversation, the ladies suggested I take a walk downstairs and check out their historical and genealogical collections.
I met with Scott Wolfe, Historical Librarian downstairs. He said he had been on the job for about thirty years and shared the responsibility of housing many of the historical paperwork of the town going back to the 1830's, including censuses, plats, newspapers, city directories, church records, etc. I was amazed at the variety and volume of documents for a town with a population of only 3500, but Galena has a lot of history to it and its library is proud of it. It should also be noted that most if not all of these documents have yet to be digitized, so if you're interested in a digitization opportunity, I would definitely contact them.
Overall, I have to say the warmth and welcoming feel of the place is reflected from the faces of those people who work here. It did bother me though that I figured out that the only person working there who is full time is the director, with most of the work being performed by part-time staff and a lot of other resources provided by the Friends of the Library group. I know first hand, however, that funding, especially in Illinois is tight. It warmed my heart to know that places like the Galena library still seem to thrive despite nationwide public library funding issues.
Some times you're on the road and you get smacked with inspiration. On Monday, the day before the Cubs would start their first game of the World Series, I was driving past Freeport, IL and noticed one of the attractions was something called, Little Cubs Field. I drove through town, following the signs and found this amazing place. It is a little league field built to be a replica of Wrigley Field, complete with red brick, ivy, the iconic scoreboard and front sign even down to the Clark, Addison and Waveland street signs. It is very cute and would make a great place for any event.