I may not have been on horseback riding along roads winding through the prairie but by the way of a University of Minnesota Twin Cities vehicle, I found situated in the wide-open, sunny corner pocket of southwest Minnesota the Pioneerland Library System office (PLS) in Willmar and the Plum Creek Library System office (PCLS) in Worthington. I had the pleasure of visiting both sites in September and discussing such topics as current reference trends, MINITEX reference referral service, ELM training and technical support, and small town and rural library needs.
In my conversations with Amanda Raetzman and Ralph Hansen at Willmar Public Library and Mary Rae Oxborrow and Chris Lang at PCLS, I learned that though many are experiencing an overall trend of fewer reference questions libraries continue to be a very active and busy place with patrons utilizing computers and Internet resources, checking materials out, browsing, and leisure reading in comfortable chairs. Moreover, most of the reference questions received by library staff nowadays tend to be the kind that take a little more time and require the use of reference resources that a particular library may or may not own as well as skillful use of specialized databases. The databases included in the Electronic Library for Minnesota are those that many library staff turn to in answering those questions.
Each office and library I visited provided a link to the ELM Portal (http://www.elm4you.org) along with additional resources for their patrons. Whether it’s the lack of resources needed to answer a question or a matter of not having the time due to various job demands please take advantage of the reference referral service provided by the MINITEX Reference staff. Questions can be submitted over the phone using 1-800-462-5348, e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org, or sent in via the web form at https://www.minitex.umn.edu/reference/refdb/index.asp. We are happy to take any reference question with which some assistance is needed.
While in the southwest region of Minnesota, I also enjoyed providing four training workshops on using the ELM databases, two each at Benson Public Library and Slayton Public Library.
Each hosting library had a computer lab outfitted with presentation equipment and Internet connectivity. Public and school library staff attended and made for an engaging workshop. During the workshops, we examined each of the databases by vendor addressing updates, search features, search results management, limiters, publication title lists, and other aspects such as EBSCOhost’s folder features, Gales’ Tool Box, and viewing e-books in NetLibrary. We also had time to do practice searching with sample questions and sharing a variety of ways to answer those questions. Near the end of each workshop, I discussed the multiple ways in which the ELM databases are and can be accessed. It was a fruitful workshop for all – myself included! If you would like to host an ELM training workshop at your library, please give us a call at 1-800-462-5348 or e-mail us at email@example.com.
I learned much on my trip to southwest Minnesota libraries and hopefully met training expectations, but one thing that has impressed me the most is that the library staff are working hard to maintain a well-functioning, purposeful library and provide much needed quality services to their patrons and community despite limited finances and/or resources. This is a battle faced by most libraries these days, to be sure, and the small town and rural libraries of southwest Minnesota are facing the challenge and maintaining their friendly spirits.
Post Script – 350,000 lbs. of Sod
On my drive from Willmar to Worthington I didn’t have time to visit historic Walnut Grove, but I did stop to discover a soddy and dugout, replicas of an original sod house and dugout designed and built by farmer Stan McCone in 1987 near Sanborn about ½ mile off U.S. Route 71. (These replicas include some lumber from an 1890 flourmill that once stood in Minneapolis Butler Square, glass windows, and a wood burning stove – definitely an upscale soddy.)
I was fortunate to meet Stan and his wife, Virginia. It was a lifelong dream of his, and it has been featured on a History Channel series called “Save Our History.” The episode title, however, is Frontier Homes. Find it in WorldCat, another state-funded ELM resource, and see who owns a copy in Minnesota!