Economies of Scale
Photo by Cindi

It has been quite a long time since I wrote a post about libraries, but in case you missed it, I am working in one again. It is good to come home to the profession that always had a large piece of my heart. There will probably be more library posts, in addition to writing posts, in this space. You’ve been warned.

Last time I served at a library, I was at a large top tier research institution. I did a lot of things, but the things I did were specialized.

Now, I work at a small community college in a rural area and I do a little bit of everything. I am the Acquisitions, Technical Services, ILL, and Circulation Departments. In addition to this, I do reference, teach information literacy classes, and sit on campus committees. In a small place, it is safe to say you do all the things because that is what keeps the doors open and things running smoothly.

The scale of things here is different. Sometimes that is frustrating and sometimes is it awesome. After three months at my new job and in my new town, I have some observations.

When you get down to the marrow, everything here, good and bad, comes down to scale.
Photo by Jerome Vaillant

Wyoming is a big state of mostly rural areas. Even libraries in larger towns*, serve a significant population of people who live in remote areas. I live in a decent size city, for Wyoming, and it only claims a little less than 18,000 residents. Much of our community is rural. Even if you live in the city, you still have to drive two hours to find major retail stores. The distance between service hubs is a problem of scale.

Because most libraries are serving small rural communities, they are themselves small and rural. The wealth of information out there in the world means that the libraries can only collect so much because access costs $. This is a scale problem that is not unique to small libraries. The libraries here have worked to solve that by having an efficient ILL and electronic resources sharing system within the state called WYLD. Wyoming’s libraries are adequately funded, from what I can tell, but they still struggle. Even though they are getting funded, it is never enough. Well funded on a smaller scale is still a small amount of money.
Photo by clement127

The other issue is technology and, boy howdy, is this an issue. Remember when I said Wyoming libraries tend to serve a rural population? In technology terms, this means we serve a population that often does not have high speed internet, but might have a smartphone if they are lucky enough to live in an area with coverage.I have heard a saying often that Wyoming is ten years behind in most things. I think that is an accurate assessment.

Technology is an issue for most of the businesses I have come in contact with. If they have a website, and that is a HUGE if, they have a terrible UX and are often not mobile compatible. Very few corporations are on any kind of social media outside of facebook, if they have that.

This lack of technology use comes into sharp relief at the reference desk. Multiple times this semester, I helped students who were barely able to use a mouse and navigate Windows, much less the web and Blackboard. These students were expected to take classes which had major online components. To say they were lost would be a gross understatement. What shocked me the most is that these were not older adults coming back to school. They were my age (I am 39) or younger. I have lived in an urban area and worked in service jobs all my life and I have never been exposed to this level of technology illiteracy in my life. It was and is shocking to me.
Photo by clement127

On the positive side, I live in a small town with all the quirks associated with a typical western small town. Everyone knows everyone else. Our lives are all connected in one way or another and I have found this to be a welcoming, friendly place.

All of these observations have raised the following issues and questions that I want to explore:

  • How can I use readily available technology (free/cheap) to serve students who may have limited connectivity?
  • Are there tools that can make their lives a little easier that require a low learning curve?
  • How do I need to shift my own instruction and interactions with my new population in mind?
  • What does advocacy for information look like in a place where information is not always accessible or affordable?
  • How can I help students see beyond the small worldview of their experience to the greater world beyond in the way I teach and the choices I make for the library?
  • What can I learn from my new community that will make me a better librarian?

*The largest city in Wyoming is Cheyenne which currently holds a population of 64,019. To me, no matter how you slice it, that is a small town.

Dispatch From Sheridan

This is the beginning of my third week here and I can tell you without a doubt that Sheridan, WY is a lovely and extremely friendly mountain town. I was expecting the small town cuteness. I was not expecting the level of friendliness that greeted us.

As a Texan, I am accustomed to Southern hospitality, but I am coming to learn that the South may have nothing on the small, midwestern town. Everyone I have met, from Mr. R’s coworkers to the checkout people in the stores, have been kind and talkative. They are all eager to share tidbits about this town that I now call home. It has been amusing, though I did have a Target lady-like encounter on one of my trips to Walmart that amused me greatly.

The view from our front windows.

I have set up a small table and comfy chair in the front mudroom, so I can drink my tea or coffee and look at the mountains in the morning. It will mostly likely be my new writing area once I start my normal morning routine of waking early before the family to write.

Blacktooth Brewing Company‘s production area.

Mr. R gets to work every day doing something he loves. In the picture above, you can see the brewhouse and some of the barrels they are aging. The staff at the brewery is fantastic and we feel blessed to be part of their family. I accepted a position as a Library Specialist at Sheridan College Kooi Library last week. I start at the beginning of the semester. The views from the college are ridiculous so expect an equally ridiculous amount of pictures soon.

This statue is called Flower Dancing in the Wind.

There are plenty of interesting and quirky things around Sheridan. On almost every corner in the downtown area, there are metal statues. Some of them are beautiful, like the one above, and some are silly, like the one of a buffalo licking its butt.

A view of the Big Horn Mountains from the Big Horn Polo Fields.

Even though this is a small town, there are plenty of things to do. One of the best polo fields west of the Mississippi is on a small town twenty minutes south of us. We went last week to watch a match. The vibrant green of the grass stretched wide under a blue sky, broken only by the ridge of mountains on one side and hills on the other. It was breathtaking. The polo game was also fascinating. Did you know that polo balls start out round, but are softer than most sports balls? I did not. After being in play, the balls show dents where they were hit.

A group of kids participating in the pig wrestling contest.

This is a small town, so there are some predictable small town activities. This past Friday, the boys and I attended the annual 4H pig wrestling contest. There was an arena full of mud and muck, a plastic barrel, squealing pigs, and packs of 4 fool hardy souls willing to wrestle a pig, butt first into the barrel. All for charity. The younger kids wrestled smaller pigs with the pig sizes increased as the size of the participants increased. It was messy and hilarious. I am happy to report that all the teams earning top scores included girls or were made up entirely of girls. The group that won the youngest division was a team of young ladies dressed in full ballerina attire.


There are parks everywhere in this town. The biggest, Kendrick Park, boasts a pool, an ice cream stand, horseshoe pits, a river, an amphitheater, and a playground. This delightful place is a five minute walk from my house. There are miles of pathways along the two major rivers in town for biking and walking. This town was made for being outdoors.

We have daily reminders that we live right next to a very wild place. Not a day goes by that we do not see some sort of wildlife. Mule deer, pheasants, and wild turkeys have already been frequent visitors to our front and back yards.

I am happy to report that we are settling in. I do not miss the heat or the traffic, but I do miss my friends and family. I hope you are all well in your piece of the ‘verse.

Geography and Other Challenges

We have gotten a variety of interesting comments about moving to Wyoming from people that have reinforced my beliefs that Texans are bad at geography.

This will probably come as a shock to no one who has ever spent any time with a Texan. If it is not in Texas, most Texans do not know where it is and there is a good reason for this. Have you looked at a map? Texas is huge. You can drive for 8 hours in multiple directions and still be in Texas. Most people who are born here, do not leave often because it is a pain in the butt to get anywhere else.

For my fellow Texans, here is a primer on Wyoming based on the comments I have gotten.

Wyoming is not South Dakota. Many of you think we are moving to the Black Hills. While Wyoming is just to the west of South Dakota, the topography in Wyoming is very different. Wyoming has more plateaus, canyons, and mountains than South Dakota. In fact, we will be living within sight of the Big Horn Mountains.

Wyoming is not next to Canada. It is closer to Canada than Texas, but most other states are. Montana, the state directly to the north of Wyoming, is, however, next to Canada.

Yellowstone National Park is in Wyoming. It is not, to the surprise of some, in California.

Yes, we are moving out of the Bible Belt, but we see this as a good thing. We are called to be salt and light in the world. It is hard to be salt to others if you stay in the shaker. There are churches in Sheridan, Wyoming and we do plan on finding one to join because that is important to our family.

Speaking of religion, while there is a greater percentage of the population in Wyoming that are Mormon (11.53%), Texas has a greater number of LDS congregants by volume and more temples than Wyoming.

Wyoming does trend towards being a red state, but so does Texas. Yes, I do know they are conservative there, but I have always been a liberal surrounded by conservatives. I think I will continue to survive and make friends.

Wyoming is full of cowboys, ranches, and farms, much like Texas. I do not expect to go into much culture shock in that regard. I think the biggest adjustment for us will be moving to a smaller, much much smaller city. The Houston metroplex contains over 650 million people. The suburb of Houston I currently live in contains over 100,ooo people. Sheridan, Wyoming has a population just north of 17,000.

It is cold in Wyoming in the winter, but it is absolutely beautiful in the summer. My family is going to get to enjoy a slate of outdoor activities that the heat here renders miserable. For the record, I think the winter is pretty as well, even if it is more work to get around.

Thank you to everyone who has wished us well, even if you were not sure entirely where we were going.