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Surprised by the Library

“Surprised by the Library” by Shelly Ausmus, Tekoa Library Branch Manager

Read Shelly’s full article in the Moscow-Pullman Daily News

Rural libraries are nothing new to me. I’m one of those kids who grew up on the inside of a bookmobile and with my nose forever in the sparse rows of “borrowable” books at the back of the Farmington grocery store.

True bliss set in when our neighbor, a retired school teacher, turned her living room into a branch of the Whitman County Library. With little else to excite a child in a town of 100 people, a library next door was the key to instant adventure.

It was an abrupt paradigm shift to traipse off to college in Seattle and find libraries at my disposal in nearly every building on campus. Plus, two major libraries, each nearly as big as my whole home town, were fully dedicated to the business of library-ing, not to mention owning intriguing special collections. My favorite was a giant, vault-like room dedicated to Pacific Northwest history alone. Often when I felt a little homesick, I visited and dug up stories about Whitman County’s past. Now, a few decades later, I’m back to my roots and a bit surprised to find myself managing the WCL branch in Tekoa. I should mention that it’s NOT in my living room.

“That should be an easy job,” friends and family said. “You’re probably bored after years of teaching.”

“You’d be surprised,” I’ve answered. “I’m never bored.”

While we may not have the endless volumes found in those university libraries, WCL has amazing resources. Fourteen branches spread from north to south in the county … online resources … STEAM bags … book talks … book clubs … weekly storytime for littles … health-focused and crafting gatherings … local authors … local historians … on it goes.

“You make me dizzy,” one friend complained when I repeated this litany of resources.

“But there’s more,” I said (feeling a bit like an infomercial sales person). “We have summer reading programs, which have featured musicians and magicians, live birds, Mobius, local veterinarians, theater groups, bee keepers, reptile enthusiasts … .” It’s another list that goes on and on.

Most of this (I was surprised once more) because of generosity from our local businesses and Friends of the Library.

Specific to our library in Tekoa, visitors are often surprised at what they find once they step through the door under the colorful mural painted by a local artist many years ago. Inside is not only an assortment of fiction and nonfiction books for all ages, books on CD, DVDs, and music CDs, but we have a community food pantry shelf, a historical photo display, town/area history books, computers to use and to check out, children and teen areas, and free Wi-Fi. A few desperate visitors have been relieved to find out that we also have bandages and even bags to clean up an unplanned dog mess from the sidewalk.

You’ll also find local directions and maybe even the house your grandma lived in 30 years ago. These are frequent questions that come through the door. More than once there have been phone calls seeking info about local real estate listings. One man apologized if this was an unusual request: “My wife said to try the library. They know EVERYTHING she insists.”

While that is not always true, I appreciated his confidence in us. The truth is, we may not know the answer … but we usually can figure out how to get it.

Then there was “Rural Covid Library.”

“Are you even open?” was the question over and over during 2020 and 2021.

Even though there was a period that our doors, like everyone’s, were closed, our services never stopped. We mailed requests, offered contactless curbside service, put together grab-and-go activities for every age group, offered free movies through Kanopy on our website (still available), and supported online learning with links to numerous educational services. Our rural libraries have also been a “dispensary” for facemasks, hand sanitizer and COVID-19 tests.

Whew! When is the last time you visited your closest rural library? If it’s been awhile, you really should stop in. I think you’ll be in for a nice surprise.

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