Down a bumpy dirt road into the forest where the radio signal turns to static, is where you’ll find the Baldwin Cabin Library. TheContributed | El Defensor Chieftain quaint 24-year-old library in Datil is housed in a former United States Forest Service fire lookout and might be one of the last libraries to use a card catalog system.
In a small community facing the challenges of an aging volunteer pool, the library not only has seven dedicated board members, but they are energized to expand their library services.
“We have a really dynamic group of people who are enthusiastic and that is everything,” Linn Kennedy, an original co-founder of the library, said. “We work well together and respect each other so much.”
The trifecta of the library board dynamic, the New Mexico Rural Library Initiative and a recent feature in a documentary is having a favorable impact on the library’s future.
“We were featured in the ‘Library Stories: Back Roads’ and that’s kind of what started this reenergizing momentum of what might be possible.” Laura Barich, Library Board member, said.
‘Library Stories: Books on the Backroads’, is a documentary by Mary Lance and Ben Ditz released in June which features many rural and Pueblo libraries around the state, including Baldwin Cabin Library and Magdalena Public Library. The film celebrates the grassroots effort and highlights the variety of services small libraries provide to their communities. From allowing patrons to fill up water to having the only landline in town, small libraries remain essential to their communities. According to an interview done by KUNM 89.9 in June, Lance and Ditz began the documentary after talking to Shel Neymark, Director of New Mexico Rural Library Initiative.
The New Mexico Rural Library Initiative was created by the state legislature with a goal to provide economic support of $45,000 to each library serving a population under 3,000 people. According to their website, this initiative recognizes the insufficient operational support rural libraries currently receive and views rural libraries as national treasures.
“This initiative got us really fired up,” Kennedy said.
This type of funding would make it possible for Baldwin Cabin Library to offer internet service, have computers, expand programs, renovate and make use of the barn. It would allow them to support the people of Datil, Pie Town, and Quemado in ways they haven’t been able to before.
It’s unclear if Baldwin Cabin Library will qualify due to their status as a privately owned library, but the board is hopeful.
“We are in a really unusual category, as far as libraries go,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy and her friend, Anne Sullivan, who has since passed away, teamed up and used their own money to get the library going in 1999. They have relied on book and furniture donations, free labor, local donors and fundraisers to keep their doors open. Since their landlord Mark Taubman bought the property, he gave them 99-year lease in which they pay ten dollars a year for rent.
Although they have been able to keep open over the years, being privately owned has left them without any opportunities for public funding like the other small libraries in New Mexico.
“That’s what we are addressing right now, is the initiative” said Barich “We have been trying to figure out the best ways to meet the criteria of developing libraries.”
In the meantime, the library board will continue to seek volunteers and people to create programs.
“This is just such a great space, and we have all the outside space as well, we want people to let us know if they need to use this space, we are more than willing to accommodate you as well as we can.” Barich said.
‘Library Stories: Books on the Backroads’ is available for check out at the Magdalena Public Library and online.