Robert Frost & Rural American Libraries

Faye Pekas'

Today someone came to my library.  Many someones, point of fact.  That in itself is reason to celebrate.  Just one is reason to celebrate, really.  We are nestled in Northern Maine and, despite our rurality and sparsely populated county, we are a busy library.  It is cold today and people were lined up early at the door waiting for us to appear with the library key.  One of those someones brought me several poems by Robert Frost.  She had a question and I an answer, it often works just like that.  Only this time, she had a question, I had an answer, then I was stopped in my tracks.  It seldom works like that.  That’s even more reason to celebrate.  One of the poems, “An Unstamped Letter In Our Rural Letter Box” caught my eye.

I’ve been thinking about people who are homeless as the days grow colder and shorter.  Those that spend their days in the warmth of our rural library buildings.  Every day, from now until the sun warms us again, someone who is homeless will be at our libraries during the day somewhere in America, many somewheres in America.  The challenges and considerations that that brings us as librarians or as patrons could be discussed all day but at its core is the reality that they are homeless and you are helping them be warm instead of cold.  Setting aside all the details and philosophical debate, the homeless are cold and we are librarians and we are humane.  Homelessness comes to mind partly from my own experiences, partially from the terrific program on Social Services Triaging offered at the last ARSL Conference, and from friends who know more about it than I probably ever will.

With early frosts, heaps of snow by January that stays until June, and very short summers, people love their library here and inclement weather must be very, very inclement indeed to prevent our patrons from visiting.  The leaves at this point are past peak and dropping, swirling in a colorful blur.  Dramatic foliage scenes for which I’m grateful as I look out the window of my library office.  But more to the point (and there is a point) someone, many someones, came to our library today and one of those someones brought me a poem.

In your neck of the woods, the leaves may swirl this time of year as well and I hope that your library is teeming with rural community members and patrons.  Most of us rejoice in this, probably all of us.  But today’s visitor strikes me as unusual. I love reference questions.  I do.  Each and everyone a treasure hunt in its own right.  Once in a glorious moon, once in a passing moment, there is that question that stops me.  Stops my busy self to notice what is around me. To care about something different than the next task, the next goal, the next success, the next change, the next…whatever.

Much like your rural and small library there are the regular job seekers, passport applicants, gamers, internet surfers, instant chatters, newspaper readers, the people picking up books they reserved, people browsing the shelves, or people checking out audiobooks for their trip south.   There are phone calls, emails, bloggers, instant messages, passerbys, toddlers playing peek-a-boo, screaming infants, genealogists, and people who are homeless and this is what I and many of our colleagues would consider “usual.”

So I share with you a part of this poem and urge you seek it in its entirety as you go about the usual business of rural and small librarianship and open doors early on a cold morning, refuse to shake a boot of a sleeping homeless person, and think of the cold that may populate your library.

An Unstamped Letter In Our Rural Letter Box

“Last night your watchdog barked all night,

So once you rose and list the light.

It wasn’t someone at your locks.

No, in your rural letter box

I leave you this note without a stamp

To tell you it was just a tramp

Who used your pasture for a camp.

There, pointed like the pip of spades,

The young spruce made a suite of glades

So regular that in the dark

The place was like a city park.

There I elected to demur

Beneath a low-slung juniper

That like a blanket to my chin

Kept some dew out and some heat in….”

~Robert Frost

One Response to “Robert Frost & Rural American Libraries”

  1. Lisa Shaw says:

    I am proud to call myself a Reference Librarian in a rural library. I am proud to call myself a colleague of Sonja. And I am proud to call myself a Robert Frost fan.
    I also once was homeless, with young children.
    It was difficult and scary to say the least. One image I will never forget was when I brought back to the shelter a simple second hand doll house I had gotten at a yard sale or second hand shop for my daughter (then a toddler, and my son an infant). She looked at it and exclaimed with joy, “A HOME!”
    I did not have my college degree at the time, was battling an illness and an absolutely paralyzing depression. I also remember looking at an encyclopedia and telling myself that I had to get myself going again somehow, and started with learning and memorizing the countries of South America, and then the moons of Jupiter, and so on. It was the first tenuous step on a journey that took my back to college (I did not even know how to turn on a computer when I went back!) and into a professional career.
    It’s not the end of my story. I still fight to keep out the cold, and one never knows when one will wind up back in that same situation; many professionals are. The homeless who come in every day are not Them – they are Me, and I am grateful for every day that our library has a place for them to go on their journey in life.