The role of libraries is changing during the 21stcentury, with the advent of the internet and online databases. Yet, they remain vital for the public as “institutions for self-education,” said Mary Tyson, director of the Regional History Library at the Community Library in Ketchum.
“Andrew Carnegie built many public libraries and he always designed them with the stairs reaching upward so you would feel elevated upon entering them,” Tyson said. “Libraries are the most democratic of institutions because they are open to everyone.”
Tyson acquired an MFA from Columbia University and worked as a painter and graphic artist in New York City before switching careers, earning a master’s degree in library science from Queens College in New York.
“Librarians come from varied backgrounds,” she said. “We help navigate information and build bridges between public needs and a library’s resources. I’m interested in getting people to do original research.”
Before Tyson came to the Community Library four years ago, she took her art background to a job in New York City, scanning and cataloguing the letters of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, the benefactress who established the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1931.
Moving to Idaho drew Tyson’s attentions to frontier history and, of course, author Ernest Hemingway.
On Tuesday, Tyson hosted a visit by third-graders who saw and touched artifacts from Blaine County history, including actual newspapers from the early 1900s and a miner’s candle headlamp. Earlier this week, the students toured the library’s Regional History Museum at Forest Service Park, handling animal skins and Native American beadwork and tools.
“Tangible things are really powerful for kids. It helps them paint a picture in their heads about something they may read about later.”
Tyson has also become good at navigating the 500 books that make up the Hemingway-related collection, answering questions from researchers and pointing them in the right direction.
“Someone came asking all about Hemingway’s guns. People always want to visit the Hemingway House. But we also have historic avalanche reports, pioneer history and weather reports from the early days of Sun Valley Resort.”
The Community Library allows 300-400 people to visit to the Hemingway House each year, and only upon request. Filmmaker Ken Burns’ documentary partner Lynn Novick filmed there recently for a Hemingway film that is scheduled for release in 2020.
Tyson said she thinks the enduring appeal of Hemingway has to do with more than his towering literary achievements.
“He was one of the first writers to achieve fame during the age of American celebrity,” she said. “And he was surrounded by interesting expats in Europe. His books were also quite risqué for the time.”
Tyson recently helped a local author find research materials for a book he is writing about extreme skiing.
The Community Library also has a seed library of local varieties gathered from local gardeners, and a collection of loaner guitars.
A newly acquired temperature-controlled vault is rapidly filling with artifacts and memorabilia from the area, including most recently, a collection of costumes and hats worn by the Fabulous Vuarnettes, a campy vaudeville show that performed for 30 years in the area.
“We are not only looking for older items,’ said Tyson. “but as a librarian you have to know the location of everything, and know that everything has its place.”