Encircled by crashing waterfalls, towering mountains and cliffs that give it the nickname “Switzerland of America”, Ouray is a hidden gem in southwestern Colorado. Most widely known for its hot springs, this charming community of about 1000 inhabitants boasts stunning scenery and Victorian houses and storefronts along its paved main drag while spectacular hiking can be accessed from many of the surrounding dirt streets.
Housed in a stately brick and sandstone edifice, Ouray Public Library (OPL) shares quarters with the city offices and the police station. Iron benches and two large planters frame the doorway and wildflowers border the structure. Close by, the huge Walsh Bell, presented to the town by a mine owner in 1900, takes customers back to yesteryear.
A long corridor, its walls covered with various plaques, a community calendar and a bulletin board, leads to the library. A wooden brochure holder has visitor guides and other information and the water fountain has a step stool for the little ones.
Inside it’s a lovely old building with nice wood furniture. Stacks handmade by Joe Calhoon, a local artisan, have lots of small plates honoring the multiple donors who purchased them. Attractive mountain paintings hang by tall windows that let in fresh air and great views of peaks so close you can almost touch them.
At the circulation desk, I chatted with Maureen, the director, who was quite friendly and helpful. She mentioned several current and upcoming programs that address concerns of the district. For example, when the county hosted Rural Philanthropy Days, it became apparent there was a real need for grant writing skills, so in conjunction with the community development corporation, the library is offering grant writing work sessions. In addition, OPL serves as a virtual workforce center saving people the 45 minute trip to Montrose. For townsfolk investigating their future, they provide counseling from the Small Business Development Center. Online they have helpful employment data from Glassdoor plus resources on a fascinating Ouray effort on sustainable living called Transition OurWay.
Multiple murals drew me to the children’s section where wonderful images, painted by Tracy Imhoff who owns the art store here, adorn the walls. There’s Eloise, Piglet and Clifford, whilst diminutive Garfield and Odie find space between two racks. A wicker basket of plush creatures sits above the children’s A/V case which is edged by a picture of Winnie the Pooh climbing a tree towards a honey cache.
I chatted with Jill Fellow, the mother of the toddler above, who loves OPL’s local history collection. A short time ago, she moved here from UT and the east coast, and since her ancestors lived here she’s been using the library to research their lives.
The kid’s room has neat miniature upholstered benches whose backs have wilderness scenes made of iron. Purple and yellow designs enliven the legs on Lizza’s table and a long sheet of drawing paper and crayons covering another invite tots to exercise their imaginations. There are lots of wooden puzzles, toys and stuffed animals, and bins full of board books sit on a bottom shelf within easy reach of their target audience. Even the radiator is decked with colorful caterpillars and a mobile of origami birds flies down from the ceiling.
Miss June engages the younger set with craft and storytimes, monthly tweens and teens programs and quarterly preschool puppet shows.
In the media area, patrons can sit in leather upholstered Queen Anne armchairs when reading magazines by the audio books and copier.
Fiction, local interest titles, the Colorado Collection and back issues of Plaindealer, the weekly paper, are on this floor. Above an exhibit of John Fielder’s magnificent coffee table books on our state are materials about “Exploring Our Mining Heritage.”
OPL has five public access computers and wifi that can be used when the library is closed. Its busy facebook page features snaps of the book sale, summer reading events and some of the activities like canyoneering and ice climbing that make the region such a draw.
Since topography is so important to the adventurous lifestyle of residents here, they have both the UT and CO DeLorme atlases. There’s a Business Resource Center, and a permanent booksale section by the tax forms and CO election information. They have e books and e audiobooks and shelves of young adult novels too.
Going downstairs I realized there’s a third “floor” on the landing where a big case of DVDs resides. It’s flanked by paintings of rugged ranges atop green meadows hosting Colorado blue columbines and new gold letters on a green background announcing this is the Ouray Library.
On the basement level I spy a dumbwaiter, a great retro way to move items up and down. Truly OPL is a unique facility. They hold fundraisers at an Irish pub and the Friends of the Library Christmas Carol Luncheon includes a fashion show.
The library strives to work with local entities. They are sponsoring one of the poets for the “Open Bard” Poetry Series in nearby Ridgeway and promote the event on their website. This isn’t their only partnership – there’s quite a long list of businesses that supported their summer reading program and they are getting ready to kickoff Read the Book, See the Movie in conjunction with the Wright Opera House just across Main Street.
OPL has two book talks a year – recently, Don Paulson and Jeff Burch came to talk about their book Peaks of the Uncompahgre, and the Colorado Poet Laureate, David Mason, has visited.
This floor is just as striking as the one above – gleaming wainscoting and artwork appear amidst the nonfiction, science fiction, biographies, reference and literary classics. The Zanett Room in memory of Rosa and John Zanett is down here, as well as the computer area and a microfiche room with a typewriter, laptop and printer (and a door which affords privacy so tutors can use it).
As I left, I noticed this pretty materials drop box next to the vending machines, bathrooms and advertisements for the CO talking book library.
OPL really makes the most of their taxpayer dollars. Despite limited resources, they are able to have an effective website using the Plinkit template (a great example of Coloradans working together as are the links to AskColorado 24/7 virtual reference and to the historical CO newspapers) and I love their link, Ouray Author and Book News, which promotes writing in citizens. It’s just one more innovative feature among many.
What a library and what a place!