For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.
For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.
There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.
September 3, 1997 - Sybil Downing Signing
On Thursday, September 4, from 7-9 p.m., Sybil Downing will speak at the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock. The event is sponsored by Hooked on Books.
It happens that I've met Ms. Downing several times. In 1994, she served as the Chairwoman of the Colorado State Board of Education. I knew she had a keen interest in libraries. What I didn't know was that she used libraries a great deal, churning research into first class historical fiction and non-fiction.
A fourth-generation Coloradan, Ms. Downing grew up hearing stories about her great-grandfather, Tom Patterson. "After awhile," she told me, "you wonder how much of all that is fiction and how much is fact."
So she started digging. "This may sound strange," she said, "but I have always felt since I was a little girl that I had a psychic connection with grandfather. He died long before I was born. But if we'd had a chance to get to know each other, we would have been on the same wavelength."
This research led to increasing admiration, then to a book: Tom Patterson: Colorado Crusader for Change, which she wrote with Robert E. Smith. Patterson bought the Rocky Mountain News in 1892, and held it to 1914. After that he bought the Denver Times, which was "an old republican newspaper." Downing says, "Patterson was a staunch democrat, and I think he really enjoyed stirring people up."
There were two more results of all this research. First, "his whole love of the American West -- I absorbed that." Second, as any librarian can tell you, "one thing leads to another."
It turns out that Patterson, who had served as attorney for union leaders, but "was also a man of means and therefore acceptable to the kind of men who owned the coal mines," was asked by the governor of Colorado to mediate the dispute that we now know as the Ludlow Massacre. Obviously, Patterson failed.
Her next book, a novel Fire in the Hole (which won this year's Colorado Author's League award for outstanding fiction) explored the rest of the story. The lead character is a woman attorney who seeks justice.
The Patterson biography also lead her to some research about one of his early partners. She managed to track down a book written by the partner's son. The first two chapters told Downing just what she wanted to know. But "by the third chapter, the book was suddenly all about life in Goldfield, Nevada during the gold strike. Then the author began talking about a ladies stock exchange, formed when the men wouldn't let them participate. The back of the book included a 1907 Los Angeles Times article about how hysterically funny it was that a group of woman would even try to start a mining stock exchange. I thought, this would make a wonderful story!"
The rest, as they say, is history. Downing's latest book is called Ladies of the Goldfield Stock Exchange. Incidentally, Downing reports that the Goldfield exchange was one of just two mining stock exchanges ever founded by women in the country. The first was in Colorado Springs in 1896.
Downing will not only be signing copies of this book on September 4 (copies will be available for purchase), but she will also talk about another passion: the Women Writing the West.
It started when she saw the report of a survey in which 1 out of 4 people in America (many of them professional women between the ages of 28 and 45) said they considered themselves western enthusiasts -- not just for traditional westerns, but historical fiction. Next, Downing and another author followed the success of a marketing group called "Sisters In Crime," formed by Sara Paretsky and other female mystery writers who didn't feel publishers were really pushing their works.
Both these things, said Downing, "gave us courage."
Three years later, Women Writing the West has over 500 members across several countries. Their members focus on the marketing of what they call "the real women's west" -- intelligent, well-researched historical fiction that features strong female protagonists.
A portion of the sales of Ladies of the Goldfield Stock Exchange at the September 4 event will benefit the Douglas Public Library District's Local History Collection.