October 15, 2009 - read America!
It's fall, the time of library conferences. I've been invited to speak at several of these lately, which I do on my own time.
Two weeks ago, I got off the prop plane from Salt Lake City to Twin Falls, Idaho, and some local librarians picked me up for the drive to Burley. If I'd had a skateboard and sail, I think I could have made the trip in half the time -- the wind was fierce, strong enough to set the whole series of enormous American flags snapping beside the highway.
The next morning, the mayor of Burley welcomed the Idaho Library Association to town, and told about the founding of Burley. About 150 years earlier, he said, a wagon train was rolling through the area. Suddenly, the wind picked up. "Circle the wagons!" said the wagonmaster. "We'll stay here till the wind dies down."
Just the next week I got off the prop plane from Salt Lake City to Elko. (It's not actually all that far from Burley, although the look of the land is quite different.) This time, I was armed with a brief but useful email from one of our staff, Lisa Casper. Lisa used to be the director of the Northeastern Nevada Museum here.
Among the things Lisa passed along:
* Gold Mining - why most people move to Elko. The large open pit gold mines (Newmont, Anglo Gold, Dee, etc.) outside of town produce a lot of the world's gold.
* Gambling - everywhere. (Fortunately, I brought the home mortgage. Baby needs new shoes!) But it IS everywhere -- it was weird to check into a hotel against the backdrop of slot machines.
* Honorary Mayor - Bing Crosby, who had a ranch north of town. It happens that I am a big der Bingle fan, so that's important news.
* Basque restaurants. Lisa even sent me eating tips, and told me that the best places are all on Silver Street "downtown behind the Stockmen's and near 3rd where the brothels are." (Wait, there are brothels in town?)
Lisa's mail made me realize how delightful it is to have that kind of one page overview of a place. Instead of just another town, Elko already had a personality for me.
I enjoyed the overview so much that I think it would be a fine project for almost any library: why not put together a little welcome to town letter, backed by some library research. What should be there?
* a paragraph about the history of the place.
* local legends.
* basic orientation - areas to check out, key landmarks, key institutions and hours. (The library should be featured prominently, of course.)
* famous food.
* upcoming or regular events.
* things to do. Nearby sights can be helpful, too.
* a place to pick up more current info - library and newspaper websites, etc.
Once assembled, this welcome letter should be made available to area hotels and motels, visitor centers, and Chambers of Commerce.
I once thought it would be great to have a statewide "Read Colorado!" program, modeled on the American Automobile Association's "TripTik (R)." You'd get a bundle of maps and guides that would take you across the nation, library to library. At each library, you'd get oriented to the town, pick up some coupons maybe, and check out the works of local authors. Maybe the library could loan you "playaways," self-contained devices, audio samplers of local works, that could be listened to in the car from one town to the next.
But now I realize that I was thinking too small. This needs to go nationwide.
Literary tourism is what America needs. And librarians are just the folks to make it happen.
LaRue's Views are his own.