008 (Transcript) A Conversation with Charlesa and Val about Public Libraries
Edited from the original transcript lightly for clarity and ease of reading. *links may be affiliate links
Welcome back to Stories from the Ashes where we pontificate on good books and the stories that define and refine us. I’m Ambre and I'm here with Amanda, per usual, and then our guests Charlesa and Val. CharIesa has been with us before you may have listened to our episode on reading challenges and she is back today in her capacity as a city councilman and how that affects libraries. Our episode today is going to be on working with your local public libraries to help shape and curate their collections. And we're going to talk to Val who is a secretary of the board for her library and we're going to hear from her and Charlesa on how their experiences have helped shape their local libraries and how they think we can get involved as well. So welcome to both of you and Val, would you like to just tell us a little bit about yourself
Sure, my name is Val. I live in Southern Iowa. The town I live in is about 1,300 people and our public library that I've been on the board for has only been a public library for 7 years, not quite 7 years. It was the longest running privately owned library in Iowa up until everybody in the family had passed away and they decided asked the city to take over ownership of the public library. I’m married. I have 3 daughters. I'm graduating my first child this year from our home school. So that's pretty exciting and the weather's real cold here and it makes me real grumpy this time a year.
Yeah, I absolutely agree about the cold weather. Erik's upstairs starting a fire. He's like “anybody against starting a fire? Are we all going to be here for the rest of the day?” and I'm like “yes, someone will be here for the rest of day- start it up!” Charlesa you just want to give us a quick recap of yourself?
Sure yeah, absolutely. Hi, I'm Charlesa. I am a homeschool mom and city council president of our small town of 2,000 people. That is about my extent of my thing. I'm excited to talk to Val about her library experience about being a privately owned library because our library's always been a city-owned library. So that would be interesting to me. I am looking forward to the perspectives we each have. So this will be fun.
Yes, absolutely. Well, real quick I have one question I like to ask just to get to know people fast. What are some of the most influential books that you have read, Val?
I thought about this a lot and I got real excited but I really had to narrow it down. The first one I read that kind of changed my life was called 15 Minutes Outside. It was a book for parents to take your kids outside for 15 minutes. And it was life changing when my daughter was four and my other one was one and I was pregnant with my next one. That was life changing. I thought you just went outside to get in your car. I didn't realize there were things you could be doing outside. Also, I love epic poetry. So I've reinvented my love for Beowulf as my kids have studied it. I studied it in high school. It came back. It just like smacks me in the face every time I read it and I love it and nobody in my life understands why I love Beowulf but it's amazing. I can't really narrow the rest down but I love Teddy Roosevelt and I read a book a couple years ago called Carry a Big Stick which was a biography of him. And that one just makes me feel like maybe I'm underperforming in my life. He had so many health issues when he started and he overcame them so well and with such awesome encouragement from his family and friends and it just gives me a lot of encouragement.
Yeah, I really like him. There's a Messner biography on him and I just was amazed at reading through some of the experiences and situations that he navigated and how much they reflected current events. I was like man there's a lot to learn from how he handled a lot of these situations. So thank you for sharing that with us. So all right. Both of you want to share with us how you got involved with your local libraries.? Val, you could go first?
Okay, I love the library and when we move to this little town. Everybody here is related to each other so when you move in as a foreigner you don't have friends. So I found that my friends were among the books at the library.
The library it was only opened very very limited all week long. So you had to learn the library hours which was I think at the time 2 times a week for 2 hours a day during nap time of course. So as young moms that's real hard but I made it happen and I went in there and I started utilizing the library. I've always used libraries even when I go on vacation I find the public library and I go talk to the librarians because every place just is represented so uniquely in their libraries. It's like art museums to me so I'm always dragging my family to public libraries and art museum and then I walked in the door while I've been on the boards five and a half or almost five years and six years ago I walked in the door and they said we have an opening on our board would you like to apply and I said I don't know because I still had little kids but then about six months later whoever they had on the board left the board and so they asked again. There will be an opening in May or whatever. So that was another year passed and I said yeah I would like to do that so I filled out the application and City Council approved me and I went to the next library board meeting. They met once a month and that was that.
So are you saying, am I hearing this correctly: that originally the library was only open like four hours a week?
Correct, that was when it was privately owned.
It is open longer now?
We're open 30 hours nope let me think yeah 30 hours a week now. So we're open every day of the week except Sunday. And we meet the criteria for a tier three library so we are open in the mornings some days, in the evenings some days and at least one day on the weekend. So that's some of the criteria you have to follow to get a certain tier level of a library and so we have met all of that.
Do tier levels affect your funding?
Is that a state thing or is that national the level?
It’s state thing. Yep state of Iowa library sets those standards and then we try to meet the standards. Tier one is really basic like 5 hours a week and have a collection I think of a hundred books which my personal library has 600 books so..
But I qualify.
And then um, yeah, right? then the more you the more you're able to work with populations and be open different hours and be able to work through different programs. You get more funding for them.
That makes sense. Charlesa how are you involved with the library?
Well mine kind of came about a different way. My child Cambell, she’s eleven, I encouraged her to do the Thousand Books Before Kindergarten program. I thought that would be a good goal for us to do. So of course we read our books at home and then she's like well we need more books and I'm like well our budget doesn't allow for more books. So we ran to the library and we went on a Thursday and the reason I went on Thursday is I knew Story Hour was on Friday. My son was born with food allergies and high asthmatic and I didn't want everything touched by sick possible kids coming to story hour. So we went on Thursdays and then of course my daughter picked up on the craft that they were going to do on story hour. So then we had to come back the next day and get hooked up with the library. But that's kind of how it started I wanted to do these Thousand Books Before Kindergarten and our library goes, “well we have that as a program.” I'm like oh okay, like bad city council representative right here because I did not know that. And I know I did your funding and I didn't know that because at the point I was probably a little bit I was a fresh green city council member. So it worked out great. So I got to make friends like you said with not only the books but also with the employees at the library and they have become during covid my son couldn't go in there. And I remember when he got to go in the first time he goes I remember this place I remember this place and I'm like how sad is that? Yes, so yeah, that's how I got involved with our now that I'm coming off of city council they have they have slotted me and penciled me in for some things and I'm hoping I can be involved in our library so that's where I come from. So yeah, we're in Nebraska so we have a different library structure I believe than with you all who because I'm interested in that. That's why I asked about the states, that's interesting.
That is very interesting. So these libraries you guys have had experience with, the small town libraries, do they work together with other local libraries or with bigger State libraries at all are you pretty pretty independent?
Because we've only been public for the last five or six years we were just working to get our tier status up to get our funding up. So we haven't had a huge opportunity to work with other bigger libraries. I mean we have larger populations around us not like Cedar Rapids or Des Moines but we have 10,000 and 12,000 around us. So those are pretty bigger libraries and we haven't quite had an opportunity to see what that's going to look like but covid actually made a lot of things possible but not for us because everything went online but at the time we did not have wi-fi at our library and we did not have good computer systems. So through that then and all the grants that have been out since then we've been working to up our wi-fi in our computers because even if we can't travel to Des Moines or Iowa City or Chicago to go do and say things there. We can actually Zoom into those meetings and kind of enjoy it from our own locality which is really nice.
So does your library participate in the reciprocity agreements in Iowa? At our our small library and our town participates in reciprocity. So I can go to any other library who participates in this.
Um, I yes, but I don't think we call it reciprocity I think we call it something else. But I'm not I'm not sure because turns out I'm only supposed to hold 1 library card in the area and I own 4. Because they were like you're only supposed to have the library card for your own library and I was like yeah but you guys didn't have library cards for a while and I've been trying to use the library for 17 years. We do have a program. It's inner library loan where actually I can just ask our librarians for a book and if it's way over in you know Decora or something they can say Yep, we'll get that to you next week and then it's charged on my little card that I rented an inner library loan. Then we actually worked together with a teeny tiny small closet library in the city of Reasonesner, Iowa. Where they pay us a little fee so that their people can have library cards at our library and be considered our own population of people. So I know what you're talking about, but we don't call it Reciprocity. We call it I can't remember what we call it. We call it something else.
Yeah, and you Charlesa?
Um, yeah, so we have the inter local be able to rent or borrow books from other things. And in the state of Nebraska of course we qualify for some stuff because they have the Nebraska library commission. So they're part of that and so I would say that our librarians utilize that more than the patrons do. They use it for research. As a city we're going through all of our codebooks and all of our manuals and so on a city level so they're also going through all their codebooks and their manuals and policy things and so that's what they're working on. They're getting a lot of information from the library commission and Nebraska for that. I'd say they utilize it probably more than we do and more than I do I have never checked out something in an inter library loan. I don't know if I've ever stumbled upon a book that I have actually needed that our library hasn't had I may I buy clearly but I don't think that we have a really good library so I'm fascinated with the 2 hours and only a few library books. I mean that is amazing and no computer systems. We have computer systems we work with our library works with the local internet provider to provide internet in our building. You know we do a lot of outreaches that that benefit everybody. If you live outside the city limits here, it's $20 to get a library card. And so we can have a library I can have a library card from a town down the road with no problem. So that's interesting. That you can only have one library card.
Well and who's policing that really no one. No one is policing that nobody's going to tell you read too much from different libraries.
Yeah, exactly well and if I wanted to pay $20 to be part of the library. That's like you know you know 30 minutes away because they have something I might utilize I would I mean to me that's beneficial. You know that's one book for me like so when people complain the non-city people complain or make mention of that I am like that is one book that you are saving you know by using the town that you come to anyway? You're just outside of City limits. You're not paying City taxes so we have to somehow offset that.
Yeah, that makes sense. So especially after your 17 year journey to try to find consistent libraries Val what is the value that you both have seen personally through being able to access a public library.
First of all I believe in reading a whole lot of different genres and different ideas because I live in a small town which tends to put you in this funny little mental bubble. So I like reading books that will stretch me a little bit and so libraries have always given me the opportunity for that if I'm feeling lonesome I can go find a friend at the library between the pages you know between the covers of a book.
Can I ask a question on that. I was just talking to Librarians and they're like yeah we really try to pick books that work for our community. So because you say we live in a little social bubble as small communities with our libraries. How do we venture out in that? How do we pick like we're very republican our newspapers Republican you know Imperial Republican I mean we are like very republican. So how do you venture out in that and how do you expect that in other libraries. So I'm interested in knowing that.
Well first when it was a private Library. We didn't get a lot of new books because the one family was buying all the books so we got whatever genres they really wanted got on the shelves and they were always really good if you requested a book. They would do a little research, but for the most part I'm requesting classics so they're like oh we didn't have that on the shelf weird and then they would buy it. The town hates that I'm going to say this, I'm sure, but it actually requires us to love one another to reach across the table to say:
You know I'm republican, oh I'm democrat. Okay, let's have these conversations. What books are you reading? What books am I reading? It makes us a better society to be able to do that. We don't have a community right now that does that super awesome. But we do have a board that's represented very well that actually does do that really well. We didn't try to do that. We didn't like go seeking out because I think that's illegal to seek out like we need a couple of democrats on our very republican library board. But we've been able to find them and we can all have really great conversations and actually our meetings 5 minutes before our meetings start. We say what are you guys reading. And then we get this wide genre of what we are reading but really the boring answer is somebody goes on Good Morning America to see what their reading lists are and then they get like best sellers or things like that that maybe people aren't going to reach into and read about but then they think well let's try it and see what's happens. So.
That's very interesting. That's a good system. I do want to say, Val, having had some conversations with you in the past about things that you've been reading something I really respect about you is how much you read for relationship. You've told me about how friends will recommend books to you that are absolutely not something that you would be interested in reading and they don't align with your values at all. But because they mattered so much to your friend and they really touched your friend you'll read them to better understand that person. And I think that's so admirable because I think so many of us just get really stingy with our reading time. Just feels so you know so limited and measured and so we only want to read the stuff that we really feel would be a value to us. But I really respect and I think that that probably pours out into your local library and the influence you have there is your ability and desire to just better understand the people around you through what they've been enjoying and reading and a lot of respect for that. It's definitely changed my mind on some things to be willing to take some other people's recommendations that otherwise I'd be like na that does not sound interesting.
It's really hard. I also did the thing a couple years ago where I used to struggle and suffer through a book until the very end I don't do that anymore because I actually don't have time to do that. So I'll read the first couple of chapters if it really hasn't grabbed me I go back to the person to say tell me what you loved about this book. Otherwise it's going back to the library because I just can't get through it and for the most part if they explain their excitement about it then I can be like oh okay, I'm just gonna skip to chapter 6 then because that's when it gets good. Okay I'll just do that.
Yeah, well sounds good.
So does your library board then pick a lot of the books? Is that like one of your things that you guys do is pick the books or does your staff and how many staff do you have?
Okay, so we have 2 part time staff and we just had staff change this fall and we have now hired a new director. So the director the all the original director left. And then we took five months of the board running the library which no thank you I don't ever want to do that again. That was hard. Then we hired a new director. So we have a part-time director and a part-time assistant librarian who I lovingly call the children's librarian because that's actually where her desired. She wants to work in the kids section. She kind of claims it as her own and is like that's my books, my section. Choosing the books is really hard. They love hearing what the board wants to see on the shelves and when we were running the library. We got to say okay, how were they ordering books. Okay, let's check those out. Who's reading this? I'm actually the only one on our library board that reads nonfiction books. Everybody else reads murder mystery fiction and Amish romance. Because those are our books in this area. So that was really interesting because you can tell what we read in our community because those shelves are stuffed full of books. And my little nonfiction area takes up three and a half shelves. It should occupy 9 and it takes up three and a half because nobody wants to read those books apparently. So we do get some say in it definitely but not any more than patrons.
So I think that's an interesting idea too. I always tell my friends if you have a book you really like go talk to the librarian and explain that you'd really like to see it on the shelf. And then ask real obvious questions like; when will you be ordering books again, would you be willing to order that one for me, I found it here on Amazon for you know whatever can you order that is that in your budget? If they say no, you always have the secondary option to say; if I purchase the book and donate it will you put it on your shelf? And our requirement for that is it has to be within the last three years and it has to be in fairly good condition. So published within the last three years. However if you've talked to your librarian and you say but this book was written in 2001 which by the way I do all the time because again I'm reading books from a long ways back or whatever like this one was 2001 but I love it and I'm going to check it out and then she says yep if you bring it in. We'll put that on our shelf when I bring it in.
Yeah, that's very nice.
So when you've encouraged your library to get books or I know you're picking out books for your library to get a while back have you seen fruit from that? Have you seen it change anyone's reading habits or just offer more to the people?
That's a great question. Not yet. This town takes about 7 years to change things. So what I did is I actually asked Ambre for recommendations because we are just in this community in the homeschool part of the community starting to talk about emotional intelligence. I know it's been kind of out in the mainstream for a long time but we just now are starting to have these conversations and I wanted to engage some of those books in our children's section. So I asked Ambre; “do you have any suggestions about emotional intelligence?”. And that started a whole conversation within my friend group here about why it's why emotional intelligence is important and things like that. So the children's books are always easier to get people to read because our children's section is tiny and people can read through those books really fast. I mean when you're a mom and you've got little kids and my friends have who have 3,4,5,6,7 kids so when you go into the library and every kid gets to pick out 5 books you go through a real tiny library selection real fast. So it's easier to help people find new books in the children's section. We're buying more of them. But the parents are checking them out a lot more often and then if the parents and the kids like them. They'll re-check them out. It's harder in that nonfiction section where people are like I don't want to read nonfiction.
Yeah, I do love those books on emotional intelligence. And I've been impressed with whoever has been ordering for our library because somebody definitely seems to think that that's important too because they just keep getting new ones and I'll go to request one and realize it's already on the on order list. But I was walking through my library the other day, and my 15 year old, will tell you that if anyone makes eye contact with me in life I will recommend a book. So like walking through the library and I've got you know my big stack in my arms in this Librarian that I haven't seen before sitting at one of the desks that they have just in the middle of the Library as I walk past she asks if I found everything I needed. And you know I tell her I found a lot more than I was looking for. So yes, I'm all good and I keep walking. Then I just like felt like I needed to share a book with her and go back and I'm like you know I'm so sorry but you made the mistake of engaging me in a conversation so I need to tell you about this book that I read recently and I was like you know it's just a picture book. But in case you are looking for picture books to recommend; I read Maybe Tomorrow and it is the best book on grief that I have read in my life. It just so beautifully illustrates what it can look like and how you can share your burden with others and how that can lessen it. But how it does just take time and you have to have you know patience with people when they're walking through the earlier stages of grief. I know I narrated it so much better to her in the moment. But she's just like sitting there, she writes it down and she's like you know I'm really glad that you stopped and talked to me I just lost my mother and I'm going to go check this book out and I was just like we have to engage with people if we have this knowledge and information! And especially if our intuition and that sixth sense as that we as women have so much stronger is telling us like tell someone about this like we need to listen to those voices and then I was just able to you know offer her some some sympathy and just talk to her about her loss for a few minutes, but those books I like emotional intelligence I like I cannot say it enough. They are not just for kids those picture books especially are for everyone. I have recommended that book to so many people. My adult friends as it comes into their library or they've just ordered it right out. They'll message me afterwards and they're like I'm just sitting here sobbing; you didn't warn me and I'm like oh I warned you. It's like Maybe Tomorrow is so good. But yeah so I'm really glad that you've been able to add those books and I wonder with your children's section when you say children's section; are you just talking about like picture books in middle grade or when you say that with the size of your library is that including like the YA section as well?
No, a couple of years ago; I think it was 2018, we moved our young adult section into our adult section. So our library is 2 whole rooms in our community. It's tiny so the first the main room you walk into is adult fiction nonfiction. All the things right. And then you walk down this little hallway where the bathroom is and then in the back room is juvenile and children's - both fiction and nonfiction. So we thought about moving our young adult books back to the back room but then we realized that young adult books are for young adults. And sometimes we mislabel young adults like I can call my 14 year old a young adult. But for reading content I don't want her necessarily reading young adult things yet. My 17 year old can be reading those young adult content. But at 14 I'm not sure I want my 14 year old doing that. That's kind of how our library has separated the 2 rooms and the genres.
Yeah, I really appreciate that. At our library the librarians, once you turn 13 they start marketing you over to like marching you over to the YA books and marketing them to you because contain main characters ages 13 and up. And if you aren't really familiar having actually read the content of the books to know what's in them it can just be like oh these are the these are the kids are your age but it's like no and there's a big difference between a thirteen year old and an 18 year old and what's appropriate.
You see a lot of middle grade fiction these days actually where publishers will take a cast; I don't want to say the title of this book that I'm thinking of because I could be conflating it with this other book I'm thinking of, so one of these 2 books that's very popular it is a family of four kids and the editor took the oldest kid and knocked their age down 1 year so that it would be middle grade fiction instead of bumping it up for marketing into YA- which is where it belongs. It does belong in middle grade fiction. But I've heard a lot of parents complain because this older character has a first kiss. And they're like this, you know this feels really young and it's like okay, but if it was 1 year up it wouldn't feel shocking to you and so you need to keep in mind this character was written 1 year up. I feel frustrated for authors who are probably really struggling because they want to have family story with a broader age cast. But then they have to like age down people but the actions of those people are aged up just in order to meet this marketing bubble so that has to be really frustrating but I do appreciate having the YA books with adult books and then it's on parental discretion. Instead of just having them in your face in the kids department.
Yeah I wanted to mention too I mean there's been a lot of young adult books that have gotten into a lot of trouble this year based on their content and whatever. So I mean it is tricky because the Hardy Boys are in the young adult section. So that is a little tricky.
Right? It is hard. Yeah.
I don't know if our director meant to do it or if it just happened that way but where the young adult ones that are having a lot of press this year are located are actually up real high. So like short kids aren't going to notice those books at much. Even me I'm five foot two so that you kind have to get on your tiptoes and kind of reach for it.
I don't know that she meant to do that I think it's just how it happened as new books. However, we were adding things to our library so part of our library's goal is to have something on the shelf that everybody who walks in the door can resonate with and something on the shelf that totally offends that person. That's actually really important in the idea of libraries and liberty itself here in the United States because we have to be able to cross the boundary of where we want to stay in these neat little lines, right? And say well this is what I believe in, this is how this is but the reality is our neighbors may not believe that so to be able to offer lots of information for communities so that we as citizens and just humans can make our own decisions about things is actually one of the hardest things about being on the library board. But it's been really good for our community to understand that that's what we're trying to do. We fall back all the time on families. So if a child comes in to check out a book and then the parents are mad and they call the library we say, “well you are the parent so you get the final authority if you do not like that book please come in with your child to the library when you're checking that out and absolutely go ahead and put that back in the book drop but we can't really police it.”
So it gets real funny when parents are real mad at that the Librarians didn't stop the child. Well we don't actually know what your home life looks like. This is a parental thing. Which being an advocate for families; I love that idea to be able to hand it back to the parents to say you can't actually be mad at us.
Because this is your child and your child is choosing things but it is a great opportunity to have conversations with your family about what's appropriate and what's inappropriate for your family because you know that's gonna be different for everybody.
Yeah, right? Yeah and I actually I don't know if this came across I love a lot of the YA books and I've been reading a lot more YA this year than I have over the last two years than I have in years previous. But I definitely steer towards the younger YA personally. And I don't enjoy the older stuff because I have yet to find a YA book; so if you guys know of any or any of our listeners know of any please message them to me, any YA books that have kids that are 17 and up that don't have sex. And I'm not looking to read that and my daughter's not looking to read that. But I would like to be reading about kids that age because I don't want to you know, live in this bubble that doesn't notice their existence and kind of rules them out. But yeah, I really love that idea of the challenging books and we have a lot of challenging books even in our home library that are specifically to have hard conversations with my kids and to let them see worlds and experiences outside their own. I was telling Amanda that in January after we moved back home from our fire our available cash was very limited as we were waiting for a reimbursement check from insurance. We had like spent it all, we needed it back! And our hot water heater stopped working. And it was like off and on it would work like maybe for like 20 minutes and then it would stop working. And so I just lived with baby wipes and dry shampoo while we were waiting for the check to come and get a new hot water heater. But my girls who are in dance and actually active, they were taking cold showers without complaining. They were just regularly on their shower days; they were taking showers and once we got the hot water heater back my fifteen year old was just like “man, you know I really think it was a good experience for us to not have hot water because it helped me to realize what it's like for people that don't and that that's a hard thing and that those people are willing to do hard things in order to get clean” and I was just like “that's like such a good thought”. It is a hard thing, it is. I'm unwilling. I've done it once in my life and that was one too many times to take a cold shower but you know we need to be able to hard things. And so I was really appreciative that like now these stories of kids walking to gather water or you know the first parent gets the hot bath and then everybody else gets the same bathwater after that you know, you read about in Little House on the Prairie books. And the last person's probably in some cold dirty water. And so I like the idea of doing that with books too just being able to challenge their own experience, their own lived experience and show them that you know it might be harder. It might be easier for other people and just helps them when they meet those people in real life. So thank you for sharing that.
So how do you guys; how does the communication between patrons and the librarians; if you're making book recommendations at your libraries, is it better that they fill out a form online? We have a form online that I like because it has a line where you can pitch the book and so I like to say what target audience it is: this book is good for kids that are on the spectrum and you know learning emotional intelligence or this is a book for kids with in wheelchairs then the Librarian be like oh well, we don't really have any books that feature kids in wheelchairs maybe we need to fill a hole with this. So is it is it better to use the forms? Is it better to just have a face-to-face relationship with your librarians and ask them in person and pitch it there? What are your experiences?
We don't have a form online for that. You have to go in the door or pick up the telephone and call the Librarian. This Librarian could totally pull it off. She could figure out how to link the form to the thing we could do that. We prefer relationship. It’s part of our strategic plan is to get people in the door to have a relationship with the people in our community. So we know actually who we're serving and we know what their wants and their needs are so actually part of our own goal for our library is to actually get people in our doors talking to the librarian.
So that's actually the best way for us. We love it when people do book reviews. I have a neighbor who asked me if she could do 2 book reviews this week yet and then we post them on Facebook. So the more helpful you are to your public library here in my area the more willing we're going to be to get you books that you request because you're using our services and you're coming in with that relationship and you're giddy probably encouraging others to come as well. Therefore there’s a reciprocalness to the relationship to say oh you have a book you'd like us to order sure I'll put it on my next order form thing.
Right? Charlesa do you guys have a form?
Yeah I would echo the relationships. Yeah relationships. I mean that's just what builds a community is relationships and so when you start when they start to know who you are and what you desire and what you're checking out or whatever they need they need relationships you know if they don't that they know where I come with my goals and my values and what I put on my shelves. Then they're going to know more about what I'm recommending than just a form.
So yeah I've text them, I've called them saying Amazon is having a sale. These are on my list. They're like well we can get those for you. I'm like great because I want to support them too.
You know I want to support them putting good books in their library and I want to check them out too. So if it's one you think other people will read I absolutely would rather have them check it out or them buy it for me to then check out and utilize it there because that makes their numbers and their patrons go up too and their value.
The community but yeah relationships. That was the biggest thing our librarians said to me today. Relationships, we want relationships. You know people get upset that they can only check out 4 books until they establish a relationship with them and then you can check out more. Like there's just things you have to establish a relationship with just how it is.
Yeah I agree with the relationship.
See now I feel a little bit guilty because our library in the next town over is building a new library and they're putting in a drive-up lane and I'm thrilled about that, but that's not very good for relationships.
Well and there are other ways for that relationship. You know if you just call and tell them you think they're doing a good job or you put something on Facebook like I really love this library thank you so much for offering it. That's sometimes enough for some libraries to be like oh this patron really enjoyed that.
Oh that's a good idea, that's a great idea. Yeah.
Yeah, so when my kids pass their or any kid in our community passes the Thousand Books Before Kindergarten they each hundred you get a prize. They give them something and then at a thousand they actually buy them a book the book that they want. You can recommend you know whatever kid book the kid picks out.
Then they put a personal note in there from each of the librarians. And it is so sweet. Then their pictures up there. So Cambell's pictures up there. Corbin's pictures up there with a thousand books. Then they put on Facebook and so then you of course like every kid that gets their thousand books and you celebrate them. You know what better thing to let people see that.
So yeah I agree anything you can show that you appreciate your library helps as a Council Member helps me know people use our library. They want our library. This is what our library's doing. And I didn't know they were doing Thousand Books Before Kindergarten; why did I not know that because they hadn't publicized it. They hadn't got it out there and so yeah.
It helps me to know that people are using and utilizing the library.
Can I turn the table Charlesa on you a little bit?
Ah, yeah, absolutely.
Okay so what happens when you have City Council members that do not like the library, do not care about literacy and think it's just a big waste of City money.
I would say we don't have that in Imperial. So I don't know like personal experiences and we've never had to cut our budget. Our growth in our community has allowed our tax money to increase. Actually we never had to increase our levy. So we're very unique for rural America really that we are still growing and so because of growth our taxes go up our revenue of taxes go up not because we've asked for our money. So we're a little bit different but there's definitely issues in our community that each of us value more than others like my kids swim. My daughter is a competitive swimmer and so I value the pool to the point that my daughter; on a daily basis has asked of the city manager has he fixed the pool yet is he putting water in the pool? I'm like Cambell chill. It'll happen. It'll happen. You know like take a deep breath but that you know we all have our difference, you know priorities as a community. I would tell you; you have to be vocal when you show up to a city council budget meeting if you show up to a city council meeting where that's being discussed. You have to be vocal. Our head librarian comes to every city meeting; every city council meeting she sits in there. She might leave a little bit earlier but she sits in there. She is also a department head so when we have department head discussions or reports I ask her, “hey, Miss Beth do you have anything you want to add?” “No no, or oh that roof still leaking.” You know, whatever it be that she wants to talk to us about. We have a line of communication with her. But I would tell you because you have patrons and you have a city, you have a board that board though that board better be there because they're the ones that are passionate about that program and that department. So when you show up and put your face. If you call me and complain that's one thing but if you show up that has that speaks volumes to me.
Okay, that's good.
As a council member. So yeah, so rally around him make him come to those budget meetings make them like that. Nothing better than sitting through a 4 hour budget meeting. You know- who wants to do that? They're great fun.
Ah, yeah, so Val is like: yeah, ah, I can just bring a good book right? Oh it's funny: so Val having come from a private library into a public library does your book culling look a little different than other libraries like when you remove books from the shelves and make space for other ones or do you guys still have a lot of space? So you're not getting rid of many books or what does that process look like?
Yeah, we're still refining it so when we initially started as a public about eighteen months in is when I joined the board and that's when we started weeding through the books. We had some new books but the majority of our books were from the seventies, eighties and early nineties. That's when the family was both working and they had lots of money and they were pouring it into the books and then as they got older and they were retired and then they were deceased and the family had to run it through the estate the books just got less and less. So that was a long process that probably took 2 years to weed through our collection to decide what's being checked out. So our criteria at the time was anything from 2000 up. That's the books we kept published 2000 up unless they were classics or unless they had been checked out. Or maybe that's what it was, if people had checked the books out from 2000 on they got to stay in the library. If they hadn't been checked out since before 2000 then we got rid of them unless they were a classic. Or it was an author you knew people liked. Dracula; nobody's really reading that book a lot excepted Halloween and only if like book studies are calling it so every once in a while you keep 1 of. What we as volunteers that were doing the weeding because it was me and 6 other community members would come in. On a fairly regular basis to go through it. We actually got to decide if things stayed on the shelf. So if I found a book I was like I didn't realize you had this one because we didn't have everything online yet and the card catalog was lacking so you have to dig through the little card catalog to find that wasn't being kept up. So if we found books that we didn't realize we had on our shelves but we were really excited about. We got to keep them on even if they haven't been checked out since prior to 2000 now our process is a little different because we are.
We do have our whole collection online and we've been through that process now 3 times I think in 6 years. Every two years they go through to weed and now of course we can click on our computer and print a report of books that are in the system that have not been checked out and then we can just decide from those. So we were real drastic in weeding initially because as we took it on we knew that the community wanted newer books people weren't using our libraries because people want new books. They want the books that are coming out right now. They don't want ones that came out twenty five years ago. So now our criteria is published within the last are checked out within the last five years. But it's still discretionary to whoever's taking the books off the shelf if they look at it and go ah it has been checked out but it didn't look like it looks like it's in bad shape or it doesn't it looks like they checked it out and then brought it back right away like they didn't read it. Probably not going to keep it on the shelf because we have limited space. We have to be real aggressive with our books because we want to make sure that what's on the shelves is actually moving in and out of our library. Yeah.
So the best advice is if you want to keep books in your library you check them out because then they pop up on the oh these have been checked out so don't touch those books.
Ah, yeah, yeah, our library has it has an award winner section that I think they kind of combined their vintage-y books in with. And we had a major flood that was, at the time, it was the single largest library loss in United States history. And so we did not have very many- basically if it hadn't been checked out we lost it. So I've been surprised at few of the really old books that I have found on the shelves but they're just like mixed in with the normal books. So like in the art section and this one just like I can't figure out why it's here but in the art section. There is the James Daugherty illustrated giant book on the Gettysburg Address which is amazing and yes, it's very artistic but it really should be in a different section. So I've been thinking I need to check that out just to make sure that they know that even though they've misfiled it and so people aren't finding what they need. I mean it's probably the correct filing for the Dewey Decimal system but it's not where I think it should be just that they're like they don't get rid of it. I was so surprised to find it there. But I'm sorry were you gonna say something Charlesa?
I just wanted to know what your budget was, Val. As it went from private to public. How did that switch? That's fascinating to me so I'm all for it.
We had to pass the thing the vote the taxpayers had to vote to say that they wanted the library to go public. And then they had to shift and adjust the budget because then our volunteer fire department and police and whatever, all had to adjust their budgets to give budgets. So our budget right now is at $61,800 a year and $45,000 of that is for salaries and the building so that does not leave a lot of money for program. It doesn't leave hardly any money for programming and books gets real dicey too. And next year we're hopeful; we're gonna be able to get more funding and things. But we don't just get city funding; we also get state funding and we go to the county board of supervisors and we have to do a little interview process to ask for more money. Which we went in this year and asked for $8,000 which we usually ask for $8,000 they give us about $7,000. And then I realized the library 12 miles south of us asks for $70,000 and got $65,000. And I thought again underperforming we should ask for huge amounts just to see what they hand us.
But I feel like we have to have a really good organizational plan for what we're going to use that money for and the benefit to being in a tiny building is actually we're incredibly limited. We have to keep utilizing the park and so we don't need a huge budget yet. And they've been throwing around ideas to build a new building. But they keep saying for 17 years I've lived in town and they keep saying that's probably 15 years away in fact they just said it in January. Well maybe in 15 years and I was like that's never going to happen. That's their way of saying that's never going to happen.
So we have a really small budget because $45,000 takes up salary and keeping the building in fairly good working order and it is a tiny building so the majority of that is just salaries.
So community members can earmark donations though if they came in and donated money and said we want this to go towards art books or we want this to go towards science books or I guess in your library's case we want this to go towards Amish romances then you guys would be able to use the money for?
Yes, and no because we still get the rights to say what we want to do with the money but in the end, the City council can say no, you actually have a leak in your roof. We need that money to go towards that. So yes, and no, um, if we had a friends of the library which I don't know how to convince anybody in this town to come up with friends in the library but friends of the library is a nonprofit organization that supports your local library and they become a 501c3 means then any money given to you is our tax write off. But if you hand money to a public library, you might as well just hand money to the city clerk and say here you go use it for whatever because it goes into the main general city budget. So yes, for the most part they're going to say oh you got a donation of $200 for children's books which we did get this year. Yep use it for children's books. Because we don't have any major issues that are needing big budgetary issues. But if somebody was donating us $20,000 for books but our building was falling down the city would take control of that budget and would probably accuse us of mismanaging our funds saying your building's falling down. You don't need more books you need to fix the building. So in working with City Council, they have the control over the budget in the end. But they're not going to touch it too much because budgets are really hard to deal with and nobody really wants to touch them anymore than they have to. So they're going to trust that the library director and the library board is taking care of their budget and they're managing it well. It's part of our responsibility to the community that we're doing things the right way. And by the way I do not like government after all these years on the library board and why it why is it getting harder when it feels like it should be getting easier and I still feel real green just trying to figure out how everything works. Where I thought well I thought we had total say over this. “Well you do until you hand it over to City Council.” Ah. So confusing and it is a little dicey. We have city council members that admitted to me in January. They do not want our public library going. They would like to be done with it and so now we have 2 out of 5 City Council members that don't believe in literacy or public libraries.
So now we're at this stage where we're like okay well let's work to educate just a little bit and then we don't know what our next role is do. I don't know what to do in that situation I mean I want to lobby them out of their jobs. But in the end these people are my neighbors.
So now it's like making for dicey neighborhoods and hard community things. And so our best bet is relationships. Our best bet to get to know them to talk with them to encourage them and engage them in the idea of what the library's doing and how it is benefiting our city and our town.
And our community doesn't have a great relationship with our city council. So the library actually mediates a lot of things just because people get upset and come into the library to talk about it. So that's actually been to our benefit because then we can come to the City council meetings and say oh they came in and spoke with us about that and we recommended you know.
Check out the ordinance online or whatever.
So maybe you need to have a letter rank campaign at the library for all the children to write how much they appreciate certain books or the library and send all the notes to the City council.
It's a great idea you know, write that down right here.
Sometimes people aren’t willing to listen until you give them something they can't turn away.
And as a council member; you don't turn away those kiddos. I mean when the kiddos come and present on Tree City USA like they do in Nebraska here. And when they came and asked us to put a skate park in and they said you know have you considered and we're like “no what do you want to do?” They're like well we'll raise so much money. I remember looking these kiddos in their face going, “Okay, we'll give you the $100,000 but you have to finish it and they came up with one hundred and fifty thousand dollars in addition.” So I mean it's two hundred and fifty thousand dollars they raise themselves. So heck yeah, we're going to go cut that ribbon. Heck yeah, we're gonna go cheer them on because the kids did it so as a council member.
You know I got to see you know those kids and any patrons coming in and talking to us means the value. So I'm sad that you're all council members are that way because yeah, we're not, we're 4 council members and 1 mayor and we're a little bit bigger than you guys.
Maybe that's what ours is too- four and 1 mayor. Yep.
Yeah, and it's just sad that you guys have the prime opportunity to take over this entity. I mean we own our movie theater, we own our library, we own a skatepark, I mean- our pool. I mean a lot of things are under our banner; our nursing home and our assisted living is owned by the city. So the only thing that's not is our hospital. And so I think maybe we come way 2,000 people and we're and we're still growing and so that like I said our tech are we have huge property taxes in Nebraska that's where we get a lot of our funding I mean Nebraska's known for that. So that's where it's coming from but we have growth.
That's incredible. Your town is 2000 people your town is 2000 people good for you guys.
So we haven't had it ask for levees our levy hasn't gone up and so we can our firefighters do not have to ask I mean we've got them a new building. Our police department has 4 officers. You know? So yeah I haven't had to cut a budget but I would probably hold on pretty tight to the library and to our cops. Because I know people are like well no police and I'm like well you want them when you need them. You know we can't get rid of our libraries in my opinion because you want that when you need it, you can't get rid of your police and your fire because you want them when you need it. So yeah.
Right? Well one of the things people say often actually is why do we need a library if everything is online which I think there's some value to that but have you ever held a book with real paper in it with the written word on it.
But in the end what we're seeing is libraries should be a place where people can come and share ideas and have relationships and you can gain new perspective by reading about things. So it's hard I think a lot of it is just education and it's our demographic here in town and it's who's on city council which that changes whatever 3 years
Yeah, well what you were just describing what you were just describing Val reminds me of like the the city gates, right? People would come and sit and share ideas and challenge each other's thoughts which goes back to what you said earlier about having a book with an opposing view on the shelves and so just being able to make your library and your small town, especially a place for that that that's what it sounds like if people can come and share their ideas and how they're upset with city council or things that they want to see changed and then they can you know read from both sides on the shelves that just does sound like a very valuable asset to a community. That is that's what your little kiddos need to write into the city council about. Amanda, were you gonna say something?
I was just going to say that my response would be who wants to hand a Kindle to a three year old? I mean maybe yeah adults can just read stuff online but you not gonna hand your little kids devices and be like: “read”.
Just not a sustainable option for children.
It is very different experience indeed. So, final thoughts on advice that you would give people that want to become involved with their local library or with the. Involved with the book selection or local library or the running of their library.
To go in and have a really great conversation with the library director. To explain that you love libraries and you just want to be a part of it whether that means volunteering or sitting on a board or helping out to weed the books starting with just saying “is there anything you need help with” actually always opens doors in public service genres because there's usually way more work than there is hours in the day to get that done. And then, as the relationship progresses, you have a little bit more say to say well I'm a homeschooling mom would you be willing to order these or can you help me find these books if you just say can you help me find these books. Sometimes if you can get them inner Library Loan they're not going to buy them. But if you ask for them long enough then they'll say why don't we just purchase that one for you so that you can utilize our library. So that's my recommendation.
Right? I have taken supplies into our library, I've had extra you know, whatever supply is glue. They have an after school program on one day a week so anything that I can volunteer and take in I do and it started out with story hour I took my little one; my oldest one story hour and then she continued to go and help. You know and so then I was apologetic the other day I'm like I should have came in and helped you do the craft I'm so sorry and she's like oh no, we got it done. It's not a big deal but just being available. I would consider them friends. We have my kids you know so not appropriate - you're not supposed to give gifts to government employees and their government employees but they take Christmas presents to them you know or they'll give them a card. Or one was sick and so we sent her a pizza gift certificate just to show that we care. Like relationships. And plus everybody wants somebody to volunteer so if you actually give them you're saying you're going to volunteer. They're going to take you up on something. It might not be what you like but they'll give you something to do.
Yeah I love that and what you were saying earlier about getting to know your librarians and them being able to make recommendations to you. It reminded me Amanda has started getting recommendations from her librarian recently.
Oh I was reading this that the recommendation of my Librarian.
He said based off of the other things that you've been reading I think you would really enjoy this.
I had no idea he was watching what I was reading but he was. So this is drive-up.
And to go every time at the same every day or once a week at the same time every week. So I keep getting the same librarian bringing out my books every week and so he’s just like looking at my stack.
Oh that's fun. Well thank you so much ladies.
So then you just reserve your books? You don't go in and look?
I know I reserve my books and then if I've gone to the bathroom I'll walk to the back of the building and look at the shelves and then they have a new releases shelf which I've realized, the website, if you look at the new releases does not show all the new releases. So I do go look through the new releases shelf. But otherwise I order everything online and I think that's what Amanda does.
So it maybe is not the best for community building, but it's extremely convenient just to do drive up.
Yeah, you max out at 50 books on our local library. You can you can put 50 holds on and that's it. So I go in every two days to pick up whatever books have come in so that I can reset my hold amount so I can start putting more holds on. So I have a list on the website of the books waiting to get moved onto a holds list and then there's a list of books that they've owned previously but they don't currently have so if the book got damaged or something and so I need to petition them to reorder them if I really want to order them. But I usually have two hundred to five hundred books out at a time and so I just have to keep going through to cycle through and then if you return your books at the outdoor book return when they slide through it automatically checks them back in if you only do 3 to 5 it scans them as they go in. And so if I have books that are overdue I'll do it that way so that they'll immediately read that they're back in because like today I have 1 book that's overdue so I can't put any more holds on until I return it. So I'll go return it through the through the return slot before I take my daughter to dance and then by the time we come back into town I can go in and pick up my holds and not have it dinged against me on my account anymore. But yeah I really love the hold shelf and then they I don't know I feel like our libraries have tried to automate as much as they can to minimize patron interactions which is kind of unfortunate. I feel like our librarians spend the majority of their time helping the people figure out the computers like that's where they always are is over in the computer section. But I try to, if I buy a book off the book sale rack and take my $2 up, I'll make sure to make small talk with whoever's there. Or I'll go if I really loved a book that I read and returned I'll go up and tell them tell them about it before I put it back in the return so that they can hopefully recommend it to somebody else.
I think they have been moving to automate things and I think that some of the librarians don't like that because they've got you know self-checkout Kiosks and so if you go to the self-checkout Kiosks they'll a lot of times they'll make conversation when they see people there because it's like well I don't get to talk to people because they're all doing their self-checkout.
Yeah, we have 2 checkouts up at the front desk. But then we have one in the middle of the library. So it is right next to the holds shelves. So if you describe your books off the hold shelf. You can just check out and leave and not have seen anyone but I always try to say hello and goodbye to the librarians of the front. At least register who I am and like I said before if they make the mistake of engaging me in conversation I will recommend a book.
Thank you so much Val and Charlesa for coming and sharing your experiences with us and I feel like I understand a whole lot more about how some of these small libraries work and also it was a good encouragement to continue building a home library where I will have control over what is available and accessible to my family when we need it in. In addition to being able to use the public library and in case forever in a situation again like the covid shutdowns where no one could get anything out of their libraries. I know a lot of families were at their libraries- I've heard a lot of stories last month in our book group about families who happened to be at their library on the day when the library got the call saying that that was it that they were closing for an undetermined amount of time and the librarians just let them take as many books as they wanted and so they were like these were the 50 books that we had for the next year until the library opened again. But yeah, I think it's a good encouragement to continue to build my home library to serve my family and my local friends and neighborhood and then to also be working with the librarians in order to help cultivate that library, like I said I use it happily, and to help shape that for the community at large and to just be appreciative of what's there and what my tax dollars are going towards.
Thank you very much for coming and sharing with us and thank you everyone for listening and if you have any questions you can throw them in the comments under the show notes and any books that we mentioned today we will add to the show notes. We will see you all next time and remember: the stories are truer than true…
Thank you for joining us today! We’d love to hear from you in the comments! Have you read any of the books we discussed today? Leave your review!
-If your kids/teens have a book they would like to pitch to our community, please submit their brief reviews to StoriesFromTheAshesPodcast@gmail.com. Include their first name, last initial, and age. Thank you! (It’s absolutely fine to submit a review for a book we reviewed already in an episode- we want to hear their voices!)
GIVEAWAY DETAILS: For every 5 reviews left, we will give away a book recommended on one of our podcasts! To enter, leave a review on your podcast player of choice or in the comments here and email StoriesFromTheAshesPodcast@gmail.com!