I’m a library junkie. During the past year alone I’ve visited at least 14 libraries and archives in five states. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, its own character, and the Missoula Public Library is no different.
The Missoula library possesses a goofy sense of humor that extends to the naming of individual computer terminals after the Marx Brothers, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Laurel and Hardy and the Three Stooges. And the book and magazine exchange located on the basement floor is more extensive than in any other library I’ve used.
Many public libraries have some sort of exchange—where people drop off used books and magazines for others to use, rather than having them pulped or thrown in a landfill. On an average day, Missoula’s exchange has more than a few books and hundreds of magazines for the taking, in many cases publications unavailable in the library’s periodical section.
Along with recent issues of Time, Newsweek and other mainstream pubs, I’ve found sheep! (the voice of independent flockmasters); Legacy (the magazine of the National Association for Interpretation); Fedgazette: The federal reserve district of Minneapolis regional Business and Economics Newspaper, OTR: Over The Road (for professional truckers) and numerous college alumni association magazines, ranging from Wyoming’s Casper College to Harvard.
Even more unique is the magazine lady, Debbie Squires. Debbie volunteers her time to keep the publications in order. I often see the soft-spoken twentysomething Debbie sitting quietly near the three tables where the magazines are neatly piled, sorting the drop-offs. Every now and then someone comes along and with seeming purposefulness messes the piles up.
“I think I know who it is,” Debbie told me, in an even voice. “And when I find them, I’m gonna…”