local news

People often think that since I moved to a town of 351 people, I’ve kind of dropped out of modern civilization. I’m writing this post from my home, where I have DSL, courtesy of our excellent local phone company, TCT West, and the library has a T1 line and four public access computers, so that’s not quite true. In some ways, actually, I feel like the opposite is true.

Take local news, for example. When I lived in suburban Chicago, there was one twice weekly newspaper that covered sixteen suburbs with a total population of over 126,000 people and was part of a chain that provided similar newspapers for about sixty of Chicago’s suburbs. Good luck getting any news about your library’s summer reading program reported.

Here in Meeteetse, we get five newspapers at the library. We have the Billings Gazette and the Casper Star-Tribune for regional and state news. But we also get local newspapers from around our region. Cody, population 8835, has a twice weekly paper, the Cody Enterprise. Powell, population 5373, has the twice weekly Powell Tribune. And Worland, population 5250, puts out the Northern Wyoming Daily News five days a week (it is too bad they no longer call it the Worland Grit, but you can’t have everything). All these papers rely to some extent on wire stories, but they all also have local staff who attend city council meetings and county commissioners’ meetings, who take pictures at high school ball games, and who write impassioned editorials about the delisting of wolves and grizzlies from the Endangered Species list; the Cap Tax II initiative that, if passed, will fund a new library in Cody, a new pool in Powell, and a refurbished pool here in Meeteetse; and the state legislature’s recent failure to pass a bill banning open containers in cars (currently you can drink all you want in a vehicle as long as you’re not the driver). And just this past week, the Cody Enterprise reported that the state of Wyoming will soon have its first tourism podcast, developed and produced right here in Park County.

When I hear people say that newspapers are dead, I always wonder where they live. It’s true that the media conglomeration that has bled the fm dial of local djs and diverse music has also gobbled up local newspapers, so that in many parts of the country, your “local news” is a canned Gannett product with about as much news value as the back of a cereal box. That’s been true of most of the places I lived (with the exception of Indianapolis, where the newspapers were locally owned, but owned by Dan Quayle’s family, which sometimes made them of dubious news value when we lived there, from 1988-1990).

Does your library have microfilm of old newspapers? If so, dip into it sometime. You might be surprised at what you find. Earlier this week I took several boxes of microfilm of the Cody Enterprise down to our local museum, since sadly, we don’t have a microfilm reader at the library. Even more sadly, the museum doesn’t have one either, so now we’re both trying to track one down. In the meantime, though, I’ll relish all the current local news that we’re lucky enough to have here on the edge of the wilderness.

reference work

I have been following with great interest the comment thread on Steven M. Cohen’s post on librarian searching skills. and the resulting brouhaha.

Searching Electronic Databases was by far the most useful class I took in library school (or, err, that I have taken so far in library school–the problem with having a Real Job 1400 miles away from one’s school is that you tend to forget that you’re still in school). But there are some kinds of questions that no electronic database can answer. In fact, not even your favorite search engine can answer them.

We don’t get a lot of reference questions at my library, although I’m trying to encourage them. I’m a librarian–ask me questions! Your tax dollars at work! Partly, of course, we’re still struggling to get people to know that we are a public library, not just a library for the school.

The other day, though, we did get a reference question. A patron who is supervising some 4-H stuff came by to ask about the price of hogs. Now there are, I suppose, numerous sources of information about hog prices in northwestern Wyoming. As I have mentioned before, there is no such thing as a good source of information–there are only good sources of information for particular topics. But in this particular instance, the most expeditious and most useful source was my co-worker, who had been in charge of a similar 4-H event last year. Some day I hope to be able to do as well for our patrons as she can.

wyoming librarianship: a sample

This is one of those day-in-the-life posts. I don’t know if it’s a typical day, since I haven’t been here long enough to get a sense of what typical amounts to, but it’s one day in the life of a librarian in Meeteetse, Wyoming, population 351. Our library serves both the school (about 70 students in kindergarten through 12th grade) and the town. Aside from me, there’s one other full-time person, a part time page, and two people who work occasionally and fill in when someone’s sick or out of town.

5 am: Get up (yes, I know, I’m crazy), eat breakfast, listen to Morning Edition on one of the two public radio stations I can get here, do some offline writing, e-mail Jessamyn to ask for some advice on the digital photography class I’m planning for the library.

7:30ish: Arrive at library. We open at 7:45, fifteen minutes before the school day starts. Open doors, turn on lights, fire up our four public access computers and two staff computers. Check the circulation statistics for Tuesday: 98 circs–not too bad, though not as good as Thursday (when everyone gets their movies for the weekend), when we had 158. Not too shabby for such a small place, eh? Print out overdue slips to distribute to teachers, who in turn give them to students. My coworker, who does most of the youth services and school stuff at the library, gives me advice on what to do with the adult overdues: some people’s books we renew, some will be coming in today, so we wait to see what they want.

8ish: A few sixth-graders come in, and I check in some books, check out others, and renew a few more. Check e-mail and find extremely helpful message from Jessamyn, complete with handout attachments. Drop a line to my boss, the county library director, to remind her to check if there are any holds or rotating books (or DVDs, CDs, etc.) to bring down to us when she comes. She writes back to say sure and that she’s running a little late because her garage door was stuck and she didn’t want to drive her husband’s ’72 pickup the 32 miles to Meeteetse, especially in the snow. The yearbook adviser stops in to ask if she can have the yearbook staff meet in the library in the afternoon because their classroom is being used for testing. We say sure.

10 am: Friends of the Library quarterly meeting. About eight members show up. I get to meet the ones I haven’t met already, and we discuss Craig Johnson’s planned visit in May. He was here last year on tour for his last book, and the event was a big success. The owner of The Spoke Cafe (a Friend!) says they’ll be happy to host the event again, and another Friend volunteers to put up Craig, his wife, and their dogs again. I agree to do some publicity, and my boss (who arrived safely from Cody) says the county system can pitch in. I mention that I’ve been in touch with Craig and that he may do some programs at the other county libraries, but that we’re thinking the big, all-county event ought to be in Meeteetse, which people seem pretty happy about.

My boss updates us on the county commissioner’s meeting about the plans for the new Cody library, and we get to look at some drawings. Then we talk about the Cap Tax II campaign, which will, if passed by the voters, fund the new Cody library, a new swimming pool in Powell, and a refurbished swimming pool in Meeteetse (ours is currently unusable). Since taxes are never popular, no matter how small, short-term, or important, we talk about some ways to explain to people that this is really necessary. Get a quick overview of plans for the Cody library centennial celebration, which will kick off on May 9 (the 90th anniversary of Mabel Wilkinson opening the first Carnegie library in Cody; the library had been in another building for ten years before that).

11ish: Meet with my boss to get some details on things like county-wide book ordering. Learn that, in addition to a new telephone (the one at the front desk doesn’t work) and answering machine (we don’t currently have one at all), we’re going to be getting some new computers. Talk briefly about redesigning the library web site. We have a domain; now we’re looking for a host, because the county doesn’t want to do a lot of the stuff we might like to do. I heartily recommend LIShost. (No promises, Blake, but I’ll do my best!)

12 noon: Realize I’m going to have to wait till 1 pm, when the post office reopens, to get the mail. Eat lunch and read a few articles in Public Libraries and chat with my coworker about various stuff.

1 pm: Head down to the post office in the snow (!) to mail off a couple of ILL requests and fetch the day’s newspapers and mail.

afternoon: The yearbook adviser says they got their classroom back and won’t need to use the library. The second grade shows up to get books and movies and return others. Our library page finishes integrating the YA Accelerated Reader books in with the rest of the YA collection. (I’m all for separating collections to make for easier patron browsing, but not when doing so might mean engaging in prejudicial labeling.) Have an entertaining talk with staff and library patrons about Wyoming’s open container laws (or lack thereof–the legislature just failed once again to restrict open containers in cars–you can’t have one if you’re the driver, but everyone else is fine).

4 pm: Start to wind down for the day. We close at 4:15, though on Wednesdays we open again from 6-8 pm.

4:30: Head home, have a snack, work a little on this post, listen to the news, feed the cat.

6 pm: Go back to the school for the potluck supper/meeting of the Meeteetse Wellness Board. As part of my effort to put a librarian at every table (or at least at as many tables as possible), I’ve been going to various town meetings. This past weekend I joined the water committee of the BVCA Community Improvement District. I’ll be helping them do some research on finding ways to fund getting better water out here where we live (I live in an unincorporated area a little outside of town, and our well water isn’t potable). The Meeteetse Wellness Board does regular blood pressure and cholesterol tests for people in town, and this Saturday they’re having a fair. There will be people there to help you learn to put kids’ carseats in correctly, people from the hospital in Cody, local fitness guru types, and so on. I suggested that next year we could have a library table to help people learn about health reference sources, and they thought that would be cool.

7ish: Stop in to chat with the person staffing the library this evening. Head home. And here I am, finishing up this post. It was a pretty good day.

in wyoming

I’m in Wyoming, I finally have my computer back, and, as of yesterday afternoon, I have home internet access! Expect more bloggery in the future about Wyoming librarianship, what it’s like to go from library school student to branch manager, what my job hunt was like, why I’m still a member of ALA, and other such scintillating topics.

In the meantime, if you wish, you can see a few pictures from the trip over at my mom’s new Flickr account, some pictures of the town and my digs (and quite a few of my cat) on mine, and some pictures from my new workplace over on the Flickr account I created for the library this morning. If you’re a library with a Flickr account, do make us a contact, and we’ll do the same for you! (Everyone else is welcome, too, of course–I just want particularly to demonstrate to the folks here what a nifty tool Flickr can be for libraries.)