In Honor of: 
Flagstaff City-Coconino County Public Library
Flagstaff, Arizona
Why I Love My Library: 

My relationship with my local public library has lasted the longest of any and all of my personal involvements! For I am not only a patron of the Flagstaff City-Coconino County Public Library, but have also been an employee there for the last 35 years. So naturally, this beloved institution has had the greatest of impacts on my life-- because it has been my livelihood, my passion, my delight, my family, my “second home,” and my richest source of education, entertainment, and information. I never considered my position there as merely a job-- it has been my vocation, my mission, my very purpose in life: to connect people with whatever they needed to know, discover, learn; or with whatever resources they desired that would bring help or joy or beauty or pleasure to their lives.

This mission and purpose was most uniquely expressed during my 11 years at the wheel of the Coconino County Bookmobile. For although my later years of “behind-the-scenes” work as a cataloger had the same effect of getting vital material into the hands of our citizens, it was bookmobiling that supplied the direct satisfaction of being able to personally deliver library items-- sometimes even the perfect book, to the perfect person, at the perfect time. That was what made my day! As author Christopher Morley once wrote, “There is no one so grateful as the man to whom you have given just the book his soul needed and he never knew it.”

I drove a 28-foot Gerstenslager truck all across the second-largest county in the United States-- from the Mogollon Rim to the North Rim (of the Grand Canyon); from ponderosa pine forests to painted deserts; from mountains to canyons; from towns to trading posts; from ranches to reservations; from ranger stations to rural markets; from national parks to remote lodges; from housing camps to elementary schools. This broad reach of service and influence brings another favorite Morley quote to mind: “It’s no good writing down lists of books for farmers and compiling five-foot shelves; you’ve got to go out and visit the people yourself—take the books to them, talk to the teachers . . . and tell the children stories—and then little by little you begin to get good books circulating in the veins of the nation. It’s a great work, mind you! It’s like carrying the Holy Grail to some of these way-back farmhouses.”

Many of the bookmobile stops were the types of places that attracted very “interesting” sorts of people. That was one of the things I loved most about this valued and valuable library service. I had the opportunity to experience circumstances that were truly one-of-a-kind. For instance, I was leaving a ranch stop one morning, driving slowly down a dirt road to avoid stirring up dust. The highway was just a few yards away when I noticed in the side-mirror a whorl of brown-flurry racing up behind me. It was a man on a horse, galloping fast! He had on a cowboy hat, and a bandanna pulled up over his face-- which made him look exactly like an outlaw from the old Wild West! Flash thought: Was I-- about to be held up? Robbed in my bookmobile, like some stagecoach of yore? But no, of course not! I stopped the truck and rolled down the window. The cowboy reined up his horse, pulled the kerchief down to his neck, lifted a plastic bag off the saddle-horn, and said, “Ma’am, I missed ya’ back at the bunkhouse. Here’s my books. ‘Shore didn’t wanna git ‘em back late.” Well! I took the books and thanked him. Then he tipped his hat, turned his horse, and trotted away, spurs jangling!

My oldest bookmobile patron also lived on a ranch. She was 96 years young, and loved to get a box of large-print books on each visit. She always invited me in for lunch— usually, sandwiches and stories. One of the most fascinating tales she told was about how she used to ride the stagecoach from Prescott to Phoenix; how it would take 3 days; and how she would always ask the driver if she could sit up front with him, because being in the back gave her motion sickness. [Now that’s a detail you never hear in movie westerns!] I guess what amazed me is-- there I was in the late 20th century, talking to a person who had actually ridden in stagecoaches! It certainly gave me a unique perspective on the passage of time and the extremes of invention in so few decades. I sat with a woman who could have gone from travel by stagecoach to travel by airplane (or by rocket to the moon, for that matter!) Rather mind-blowing-- and the stuff of unforgettable memories.

For all its delightful aspects, bookmobiling was not a career for the faint of heart. There was many a challenge with dicey weather, scary critters, and mechanical breakdowns. Fog and ice and snow were fairly common, but in the 1980s one of the worst windstorms in Northern Arizona history roared across the Navajo Reservation. Even a tractor-trailer was overturned, and it blocked the 2-lane highway for 3 long hours. There was nothing to do but sit and endure zero visibility in 80-mile-an-hour winds-- forces that rocked the bookmobile, filled the cab with sand, and slammed grit into my skin and hair even with windows rolled up!

Scorpion encounters were rampant across the desert for several years, and I heard tales about them at most every bookmobile stop. Then one of the critters provided me with my own story on a summer morning, after my night in a Marble Canyon motel. I simply pulled a tee-shirt over my head, and was surprised to feel 3 quick, sudden stings in the stomach. After shaking out the front of my shirt, a scorpion fell to the floor! Luckily, I did not have a serious reaction (no anaphylactic shock!), and continued on to my bookmobile visits for the day. A little neurotoxin-numbness creeping up my chest and some tiny tingling in the scalp tissue were not about to halt bookmobile operations. People loved and depended on their mobile library! [As they do to this day, where the current bookmobile is a 35-foot bus with air-conditioning, computer access, and an elevator lift for assisted entry!]

Mechanical breakdowns also had to be taken in stride. Sometimes I took my bicycle along, and could ride to the nearest phone to call for help (no cellphones back then); and sometimes I’d figure out a temporary fix that enabled the truck to limp back to town (like the time at Meteor Crater when 2 dangling metal rods under the hood indicated a disconnected throttle; I just had to re-screw them together and then wire up the broken gas-pedal with a bread-bag twist-tie. Bookmobiling certainly encouraged resourcefulness!)

Every challenge was a contribution to “character development,” I was told. And I believed that. However, whether out in the Bookmobile OR within our downtown building, I have truly been shaped and nurtured by my library-- in body and soul and heart and mind. I don’t know who or what I would have become without the people and places and programs and materials and services and experiences it brought into my life. It’s been a place that has fostered independence as well as teamwork, provided opportunity for personal growth, built community consciousness, forged lifelong friendships, and created memories to cherish.

How could I not-- love my library?

Pipp