In which there's a new NaNoWriMo chapter: Clifford, the big red dog!

September 10th, 2010 Skookum Tribune issue number whatever, volume whatever
“It’s all Okay”
Meet Clifford, the library dog
By Annabeth Spencer

Newcomers to Skookum maybe surprised when they investigate the city library, located behind City Hall on Salmon Street. From the outside, the library appears to be an ordinary, moderately-maintained Carnegie building, with large bay windows decorated with children’s drawings. Indoors, the antique furniture is oak, the recently-replaced carpeting is understated, and the hand-wound grandmother clock opposite the librarian’s desk chimes reminders of the hour in the key of C. There is nothing immediately evident in the physical space of the building to alert a new library patron that this library is anything but stereotypical.

The Skookum Public Library, now a member of the Pilchuck County Library Consortium, was organized and built in 1904 by a number of civic-minded women who wanted opportunities made available for men’s entertainment as alternatives to drinking themselves into oblivion at the Skookum Public House and drinking themselves into oblivion after availing themselves of the other services available at Miss Melba Mae’s Evening Star House of ill-repute on Cedar Street. The Social Betterment Society, as the ladies called themselves, requested and received funds from the newly-formed Andrew Carnegie Foundation to build a library near the center of town, to purchase up to 100 edifying volumes of literature and nonfiction, and to hire the town’s very first librarian, Miss Marion Dodson at the generous salary of fourteen dollars per month. Miss Dodson’s duties included maintaining order and peace in the library, taking care of the books, organizing the shelves, and splitting and hauling wood to keep the library woodstove burning at a comfortable temperature to encourage readers to stay.

Miss Dodson ran a tight ship: cigars were not allowed in the library unless they were unlit. Drinking and drunkenness of any kind were not permitted. A special shelf of “ladies literature” was maintained, so that women need not bother themselves with the political nonsense that interested men. The initial library collection also included several books intended for use by children, with uplifting themes and vocabulary to stimulate growing minds and spirits.

How things have changed at Skookum’s little library. The old 1904 Carnegie Library building still stands in the same place, although the original brick siding is now protected by stucco, in an attempt to keep rain and wind from entering the building. The building was built of inferior brick materials throughout, which have caused endless headaches for generations of library board members faced with ongoing bills to shore up the leaky, crumbling, and poorly-built structure. Yet the citizens will never hear of tearing down their beloved library, even when promised a shiny new library with modern lighting and more efficient heating. Whenever the budget is threatened, volunteers emerge from everywhere to patch the roof, repair the plumbing, and even exorcise the occasional library ghost.

Leading the old library full of traditions is a librarian who could not be further removed from the legacy of Miss Dodson. Abigail Anderson looks like one of her young patrons, with her tie-died t-shirts, multicolored hair, skinny jeans, and flip flops. “It took some people a long time to get used to my appearance,” she told this reporter, “and I had a tough job convincing older patrons that I really was old enough to be a librarian.” She waves a casual hand at the Washington State Librarian’s Certificate displayed prominently in a frame behind her desk. “But once people got to know me, and learned that I love Steig Larsson and Danielle Steel and Shakespeare and Doctor Seuss just as passionately as any of my patrons, they’ve gotten used to the hair and everything. They seem to enjoy some of the more unusual ideas I’ve brought to the library.”

One of Abbie’s “unusual ideas” is Clifford. Clifford is an Irish Setter, standing about 30 inches tall at the shoulder, and Clifford nominally belongs to Abbie herself. However, a few years ago, one of the teachers at Skookum Elementary School asked Abbie if her class might take Clifford along with them on a field trip to the local salmon hatchery. Abbie joked that she’d be happy to loan Clifford, as long as they checked him out properly and returned him on time…and from that joke, the most unusual library collection in the state was created. A photograph of Clifford’s jaunt with the school kids was published in the Skookum Tribune, with the caption, “Library dog loaned for special event.” Soon after, other citizens began to ask to borrow Clifford, for walks, for picnics, even for weekend camping trips.

Sensing an opportunity to market her library’s services to non-traditional library users, Abbie Anderson sewed a barcode onto Clifford’s collar, and let it be known that Clifford could be checked out from the library for up to three days at a time. Checking out Clifford is not a simple affair: he comes with a leash and a little suitcase containing a small package of doggie poop-pickup bags, ziplock bags full of dogfood, and a book about basic dog care. People now reserve Clifford for dates and family vacations. They take him for walks in the park. The senior center has a standing reserve on Clifford’s time for their Wednesday evening bingo game. During this event, the big friendly red dog wanders between tables, chairs, and wheelchairs, greeting old friends and politely offering a paw when introduced to new people.

Are there any drawbacks to having a dog as a circulating library item? Abbie laughed when I asked the question. “Sometimes I forget to reserve him for myself!” Although Abbie has three other dogs at home on her little farm outside city limits, Clifford is clearly her favorite companion for the long horseback rides she takes into the foothills. “He’s such a great dog,” she says, pulling his ears back and forth as the dog grins a sloppy dog smile up at her, “I’m just glad that other people can borrow some of his greatness from the library.”

The Skookum Public Library is open from 1pm to 9pm Mondays through Wednesdays, 1pm to 6pm Thursdays through Saturdays, and is closed Sundays and most banking holidays. To get a library card, citizens must be able to write their name legibly or be accompanied by another person who can write legibly on their behalf, and present some acceptable form of identification and proof of address. Clifford the big red dog is available for checkout by adults and children (with adult permission on file), and must be returned in good condition within three days of checkout. Abbie Anderson says that the dog has been known to return to the library unaccompanied on his due date, rather than allow himself to become overdue.

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