COLUMBUS—When the owner of a bookstore in Cody, Wyoming, offered her entire inventory of 41,000-plus books to the Stillwater County Library, director Della Haverland had two questions.
“How do you turn this down?” she said. “But we also asked, how do we take this on?”
Haverland happened to have a good idea of how much space 41,000 books would take up, since the most recent inventory at the Stillwater County Library in Columbus showed that it houses 40,074 items, most of them books.
“It’s a huge donation,” she said.
Or, as library clerk Brooke Hampton put it, “it was pretty overwhelming.”
What Haverland and her staff ultimately decided to do, with the blessing of their benefactor, Ruth Anderson, was to share the wealth with every library in the 13 counties that make up the South Central Federation of the Montana State Library.
Representatives of public libraries, school libraries and home schools will be allowed to take possession of any books they think they can use, free of charge.
They will be able to make their selections during a 10-day public book sale that is scheduled to run April 21-30 in the Stillwater County Pavilion. Proceeds from the sale will be used to support the library in Columbus.
Anderson closed her Wyoming Well Service Book Exchange—named after the company owned by her late husband—last September, shortly after she entered an assisted living facility. She was not available for comment, but Naomi Stroh, who managed the store for 25 years, said it had been in Cody since the 1980s.
It was located on Bighorn Avenue originally, then moved to a larger building at 1902 Sheridan Ave. in 1995.
“It’s a kind of a treasure that Cody’s going to miss,” Haverland said.
It was a general-interest bookstore, Haverland said, with probably 95 percent of its inventory in paperback—“everything from Harlequins to Zane Grey to a science fiction collection that just blows ours out of the water.”
She said the books were also in amazingly good condition, with no dust or mildew and most of them looking nearly new. Anderson first offered the collection to the public library in Cody, Haverland said, but it is so well funded it didn’t need the donation. Anderson then thought of offering them to a rural library, since she had grown up in rural Wyoming.
Stroh, who is a co-trustee of Anderson’s estate, said the other trustee, retired Cody banker Ken Stockwell, was the one who suggested the Stillwater County Library. Haverland said she heard from Stockwell that Anderson was more than pleased with their plans to share the collection with other libraries.
“He said she was just really happy because she knew her books were going to reach a lot of people,” Haverland said. Although she hasn’t met Anderson yet, Haverland added, “she seems like an amazing woman, so I want to do right by her.”
Part of the agreement was that the library would take the entire collection, as well as all the store’s shelving. Haverland, Hampton and children’s librarian Robert Smith went to Cody last month for a preliminary look at the collection and managed to snag 188 books for the library. They will continue looking for suitable books before and during the sale.
The Friends of the Stillwater County Library paid to have the collection shipped to Columbus. It filled two semi-trailers, with the books packed in 675 boxes. Cook Moving and Storage, of Cody, charged $4,160, but Haverland suspects the company donated a lot of time and labor.
In addition to selecting books for the Columbus library, Haverland plans to hang onto lots of the shelving. Her 3,500-square-foot library is already full, but the county is considering building a new, expanded library, and money for a feasibility study was recently allocated.
The books and shelving filled three 10-by-20-foot storage units and one smaller unit in Columbus. The books will be removed and put on display for the April 21-30 sale, when prices will be $2 for hardbacks, $1 for large softcovers and 50 centers for paperbacks.
“I’m getting as many volunteers as I can find to haul those books over,” Haverland said. She already has commitments from a 4-H club and some local teen groups.
“I’m just so thrill to fulfill Ruth’s legacy,” Haverland said.
She is also just plain thrilled.
“We won the lottery,” she said. “We won the 41,000-book lottery.”