Last week, my mother’s cousin sent this report about the very tiny El Rito Library, in New Mexico – where public library funding is precarious. She’s originally from Ohio, where public libraries have greater financial support from the state.
What strikes me most about my aunt’s letter is that the public library’s annual budget is only $60,000 – and they’re struggling to reach their goal. I can’t imagine running a library on such a small sum of money. At the same time, $60,000 seems like an overwhelming amount of money to raise.
Two weeks ago, I went to the annual auction for the little library in El Rito, N.M., a village of 1,500 not far from here. The library gets no state money. Zero. It must raise all $60,000 it needs per year. So, the first weekend in December, it had an auction.
People who live around here donated – some antiques, pictures, books, etc. etc. Ghost Ranch [where she works/lives] contributed a week-long class of your choice in spring or fall.
It was held in the all-purpose gym (with a stage at one end, like elementary schools back home) of Northern New Mexico University, a tiny campus with three old buildings behind a fence in El Rito. They’ve built an extension in the town of Espanola, on the road to Santa Fe, and it’s growing, so this campus may be dying, I was told.
About 100 people were there, in cowboy hats and cowboy boots, and little kids running around, and very old people. I talked to one old woman, 74, wearing a long skirt and heavy silver jewelry. she told me she is making a movie about her life and “the old days” here when people raised cattle on ranches and no Anglos had come yet. Another old man hobbled up in blue jeans, he spoke no English.
Women brought food – salsa and chips, and there was coffee in pots in the back. the auctioneer was very good. He had on cowboy boots, jeans, a flannel shirt, and his cowboy hat. He volunteered his time. He went at it for two hours up front at a little table by the stage. The librarian sat up there too, in jeans and her library polo shirt, and kept track of the bids.
They raised about $6,000. I talked to the librarian afterward and she is pushing the state to help fund them. Four little libraries have joined in this effort. The state doesn’t fund libraries in New Mexico. I told her Ohio has state funding, but it’s been cut, and she rolled her eyes and said she wished they’d do that here. They’d take anything! She said people in El Rito really wanted a library, so they created one, and it keeps going, but they are always one step away from closing…
The library is in a tiny huddled adobe building down a side road, way off the main street in town, but don’t think of a Midwest town. Grass? Treelawns? A town square? In El Rito there are a few ragged buildings leaning into the one road through town; there are a few houses, a few art studios, a little Catholic church, and El Farolito (my favorite Mexican restaurant) which seats just 17 people. There are several abandoned buildings including a big old grocery store, which must have been marvelous in its day.
But there is a community, and people came out and spent Saturday afternoon in this little gym to support their library.
I told the librarian I’d come over some Saturday. It is open Tuesday thru Saturday, noon to 5.