Wyoming’s Horseback Librarian Report to ALA

Mabel Wilkinson on Joker

Just over a century ago, the American Library Association convened its 38th Annual Meeting in Asbury Park, New Jersey, from June 26 to July 1, 1916. In the published proceedings was a report from one Mabel Wilkinson, Park County Librarian, telling of her adventures when she was hard at work extending library services to the smallest places in Platte County. You can read the full account in Hathi Trust.

Over two weeks and 400 miles, Mabel “…visited each post-office, town, village, and hamlet in the county on this trip.” It was a two-week, 400-mile trip on horseback to places that included Lakeview, Bordeaux, Slater, Chugwater, Hartville, Sunrise, and Glendo. Only one place — Hartville Junction (also known just as Junction) — turned down a library. (You can read more about all these locales in Wyoming Places.)

After trying out seven other saddle horses, she chose “Joker” for the trip, whose former owner, “would not guarantee one thing about him, excepting that he had never done a mean thing in his life, that he was not ‘lady-broke,’ and was not overly gentle!”

Perhaps her most famous quote was not actually said by her, but was one she passed along in her report:

Not long ago I was greatly surprised as well as amused when a library director in the northern part of Wyoming, upon requesting a library organizer for her county, required: ‘A young woman who is not only a college graduate with library school training and experience but in addition must be able to get along with Western people, ride and drive, as well as pack a horse, follow a trail, shoot straight, run an automobile, and be able to rough it whenever necessary.’ Now, it has been proved that those qualifications all come as part of the business, as well as the fun of organizing in Wyoming.

Mabel went on to become the County Librarian for Park County. (You can find mentions of her in Wyoming Newspapers.) Her journey is a wonderful glimpse into both the history of Wyoming and the history of libraries in this state.

 

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