Embarrassingly I drove to Park Headquarters this morning with my bike still attached to the top of my car. Will my status as a helpless tourist never end? Not that I forgot about it (as one is apt to do about bikes on top of cars) but rather I could not get the latch off the back tire. Thankfully Betty hooked me up with a Ranger who had probably helped many a tourist get out of jams, and together we got the thing off. My carbon footprint should be significantly lighter on my commute tomorrow morning! Betty started off by giving me a driving tour of Canyon Village, describing useful shortcuts in the woods, revealing the location of the employee rec center, laundry, and the like. She also related an amusing incident while near the Grand Canyon School (which boasts a graduating class of about 12 per year) pointing out that the high fence around the soccer field does not keep out the elk and that many a game has been called due to the wapiti’s attempt to start cutting the grass at the most inopportune moment.
I got a refresher course on the Library of Congress call number system—ridiculous—Dewey, for all his faults, has a much more logical, understandable system (misogyny and ethnocentrism aside). The Research Library boasts the largest collection I’ve seen yet of NPS libraries. Betty approximates there are about 12,000 titles. Bigger than my school library. Okay so I’ve only been privy to collections at Rocky Mountain and Grand Teton, but neither of them had the capacity to ILL materials all over the country for free. They are several hundred more titles away from having all materials entered and searchable in OCLC’s WorldCat. If you didn’t know, this is an online database of library collections from all over the world. One stop shopping for those in need of that elusive title needed for research. GCNP subscribes to an impressive amount of periodicals, some of which date back to the 1800s. All environmental impact statements and research reports are also catalogued, which is something my previous supervisor, Alice Hart, at Grand Teton, was trying to get her co-workers on board with. Located in a far corner of Park Headquarters, far from the madding crowd on the rim, wayward travelers come to use two public access computers and the wifi, which is also accessible in the zen-like courtyard, the heart of the headquarters space. Unfortunately, the library position is on a four-year contract, which for Betty, is up this September. If she wishes to continue working she was to reapply and compete with 400+ applicants, many of whom have more federal GS points than she due to service in the military and other federal job experience. The position is also on a contract rotation due to the fragile nature of funding. As one who was recently a laid-off librarian, I can identify with that peril. Who will greet the couple from England, Germany, or South Africa? Who will care for the collection and preserve our heritage? Having an MLS is not required for the position, a minimum of one term in a library graduate program is. The problem lies in cutting corners, bringing in people with dubious skills or none at all with no direction from someone who is highly trained and certified in the art and science of librarianship. When someone does come along that knows what’s up in library world they’re often stuck cleaning up nightmares, messes, and huge backlogs of work. Then, just as some headway is being made, the funding is pulled or drastically reduced again and the vicious cycle continues. Millions of people flock to this place from all over the globe. GCNP would not be what it is today without a body of work, documenting its complex history, cultivated and cared for.
I was browsing through Hopi House today and came across some rare pottery, rare in that the art of making it was lost in the 1970s; presumably because the oral librarians of its craft passed on without having successfully passed the torch. These ancient and modern storytellers and culture-keepers are in jeopardy of being dishonored if subsequent generations do not do their part. Some knowledge is sacred and is passed only to other qualified individuals. I see an almost eerie parallel here between oral and written culture. Both types of cultural librarians must be encouraged, celebrated, and in some cases marketed. To a degree it saddens me, and its even a little bit scandalous the degree to which the parks sell themselves; but then, I’m from the John Muir train of thought in that conservation and preservation trump terms like: use, resource (in an economic sense), and renewable (a misleading term if there ever was one).
After lunch Betty sent me out to observe the 1:00pm Ranger Storytime on the front lawn of El Tovar Hotel. I will eventually be doing these at least once a week. After that I was delighted with Mary Colter’s Hopi House, designed for the Hopi people to live, sell, and demonstrate their art. It is my favorite building by far. I then made it to the former Verkamp’s Curio Shop, now part memorabilia and interp displays, part Grand Canyon Association run bookstore and gift shop. Come to think of it, I don’t think there is a major building I have been in yet (besides my own trailer and Park HQ) that wasn’t selling something. Oh the horror. But who am I to judge? The GCA are the ones paying my salary while I’m here. From the porch of Verkamp’s I heard a Ranger talk on the Park’s human history—the Reader’s Digest version. On our walk and talk we also passed by the poor soul whose glamorous job it was to be the elk pooper scooper on the hotel lawns. We also learned that several years ago, when there was even less precipitation than usual, some desert bighorn sheep came up on a regular basis to eat the hotel grass and drink from the sprinkler heads.
I ended my day by going through the Research Library’s juvenile collection, feeling like the proverbial kid in a candy store stacking up potential candidates to create a program around for my upcoming storytimes on the lawn…hopefully after the pooper scooper has been there.
Jenny Gapp, has eighteen years experience as a teacher librarian, four seasons as a seasonal state park ranger assistant, and two summers adventuring with National Parks in an official capacity.