by Sara Kuhbacher-Rosier and Elizabeth Albin
In 1987, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed March as the first Women’s History Month to “commemorate and encourage the study, observance and celebration of the vital role of women in American history.” For 35 years, March has been recognized as a month to focus on and learn about the women of the past and of today who impacted history.
Women have a distinctive history in the world of libraries. The first 150 years of American library history saw men from prominent east coast families build and operate the public libraries in the country, maintaining them as institutions for the educated and civilized public. However, in the late 1800s women started to come on board and began to change the face of the public library to be more unrestricted and cultural places reflecting each unique community. As east coast library jobs became competitive, women librarians moved west. Libraries in the west were seen more as meeting places than educational centers and the western librarians effectively transformed their libraries to community hubs that provided access to information and programming. Women librarians delivered books via horseback, fought weather and isolation to become important and equal members in their community even before women were allowed to vote in the United States (research from A History of US Public Libraries by the Digital Public Library of America, https://dp.la).
One of our favorite quotes comes from a newspaper advertisement for a Park County, Wyoming librarian in 1916 listing the requirements for the job: “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!” These western women librarians paved the way for the modern women librarians of today.
At the Campbell County Public Library System, 91% of the staff are women. On our staff we have women who include a published author, a medical doctor, a biological engineer, business owners, accomplished musicians, teachers, and ranchers, in addition to being highly educated and experienced librarians. Many of these librarians have been born and raised in Campbell County, choosing to stay or return to serve their community through their library careers. They serve in many additional community roles such as on boards, in local churches, bilingual services, local politics, campaign managers, and more to enable them to have a well-rounded understanding of how their community works and the needs the library can meet.
Our librarians, both male and female, strive every day to make sure that the library is bridging the gap in Campbell County and connecting our citizens, regardless of their status or place in life, to the information and resources they need and want with clarity, kindness, humor, endurance, and a distinct western flair!