As we approached tiny Sisseton, a South Dakota city of 2500 plus, the flatness abated and the ridges of the Coteau des Prairies plateau appeared in the distance.
Perched at the top of the town next to the Roberts County Commissioners’ domed edifice, infinite vistas await from the covered entry to Sisseton Memorial Library (SML). The two story brick facility has a raised roof and ample storage.
Director Jayne Nieland had kindly given permission for photos, but was away on vacation when I came.
Fortunately Children’s Librarian Janet Schmidt was able to give me a tour and was super helpful and informative. Back from a seven year stint in Germany to enjoy the company of her aging parents, she’s well equipped to care for them since she was a geriatric nurse for 27 years.
When I admired the polished wood patterns on the tilted ceilings, she mentioned it was similar to the style of flooring in the town’s Stavig House Museum, a classic home Mathilda Stavig gave Sisseton alongside letters and documents pertinent to its heritage.
After ten years as a simple reading room, SML moved to a new Carnegie building in 1916 and the current location in 1969. July’s fête commemorating fifty years of Maple Street occupancy saw a magician performing in a nearby park. Not limiting themselves to the one structure, the municipal arts council has been a partner in presentations at off site venues.
Ingenious collaborations like that and a lot of effort and creativity result in wonderful service from a mere two cheerful employees dedicated to this small county population of just over 10,000. How nice for Sisseton that staff can maintain a grueling schedule of long hours and be open six days and two nights in winter and five days and one night in summer!
SML has wifi, four laptops, two desktops, a standup internet, a reference computer and two juvenile stations. The South Dakota Titles To Go Overdrive connection greatly expands on the physical books, CDs, DVDs, audiobooks, braille, large print and periodical offerings via its downloadables. For those living outside the burg, a card costs just $10 annually or $15 for the family.
Next, Janet led me into yet another charming space.
Martha Morris collected these special edition Jule plates (the Danish word for Christmas) and her family donated them in her memory. Most sneak a star in somewhere and they make for a stunning and engrossing array. The Turner Room, after Agnes McCoy Turner, a board member for 52 years whose large gift made expansion a reality, has gorgeous doors, a grandfather clock and a large conference table. Its cases are full of tomes that don’t circulate. Village histories, genealogies and old plat volumes cover the MN ND SD tri state area and even some IA and NE materials as residents are very interested in their Native American and agricultural past.
Unofficially, the city is in the open Lake Traverse Reservation of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate people. Approximately half the inhabitants are from this subdivision of the Santee Dakota. In the mid to late 1800’s and the beginning of the 1900’s immigrants settled here and century farms are common on the outskirts accounting for many of the records, but my guide carefully opened some rare treasures.
Seeing an 1887 missionary penned Holy Bible in the language of the Dakota and an 1874 New Testament translated from the original Greek was quite a treat.
Passing a potted fern, a plank filled by little bronze plaques detailing memorials and bequests up to 1995, and a bulletin board of community information and flyers for Coloring Thursdays and Emporia’s MLS course, Janet pointed out a couple of Gitchie Girl narratives about a brutal deed that shocked the Midwest in the 1970’s before we headed downstairs to Youth.
Online, Sisseton’s library link is static so the lively Facebook page is a de facto website. Funny memes extol SML’s virtues and posts are frequent for a two person outfit. Shots of imaginatively arranged hot titles teeter in towers or are paired side by side. Notices remind of the tax return deadline or solicit the public for hard to find containers needed for activities. I chuckled at some shamelessly self-promotional comments and was pleased to see some attractive adolescent self help options for students.
Regular advertisements tout the Summer Reading Program (SRP) and an updated profile picture of graffiti on the front steps proclaims A Universe of Stories, the part of this year’s unwieldy SRP name they decided to use. Some institutions took the Blast Off portion of the motto to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the astronauts’ moon walk, but I like how SML stresses the togetherness message of the One World, Many Stories truism.
SRP was quite successful. So many signed up, event times were split into two by age. Lucky participants got state fair tickets, a Build Day and an intriguing Mission Impossible challenge to fashion an alien out of a few crafting supplies augmented by any recyclables and fabulate its origin story (entries were judged and prizes awarded). The wrap up at City Hall featured the Hanson Family Juggling act, a partially interactive show including high rise unicyclers! Shots of tots laughing confidently while spinning disks on sticks abound.
Items are shelved by category. Pre K, levels 1, 2 and 3, Seuss and 100 award books have sections as do the popular Dr. Kitty Kat, Scooby-Doo and Nancy Drew series. Juniors plop on a beanbag or pads relishing the festive air imparted by strings of fairy lights draped over armoires and wrapping poles and the stars and moons adorning end panels.
Winnie the Pooh characters dance on walls by a collage of snaps of giggling kids. A primary colored alphabet console of board books sits by easy reader spindles and a wheeled cart holds bins of A/V combo packs and DVDs. Racks exhibit favorites and planet and astronomy nonfiction due to the SRP theme and low units provide recommendations. Cushy black armchairs interspersed by shiny marble end tables lining the cinder block sides keep parents and guardians comfortable despite the scaled down furniture that dominates the space.
Kindergarteners through grade four have Reading Capers after school once a month. Capers Kids wear crazy hats to a Dr. Seuss birthday party and act as role models by assisting other children. Just trusting them with that responsibility can do so much for self-esteem and so appropriately in this age of cyber bullying, kind behavior is emphasized. What a great idea to teach this at an impressionable age.
In fact, a new trend of painting stones then concealing them for someone else to find and hopefully pose for a selfie clutching the rock, post it on Sisseton Rocks, then keep or rehide it, inspired Kindness Rocks at SML. Thirty youngsters joined representatives of the local group and some retired teachers in using the kindness motif to decorate rocks that would spread happiness and joy. From the photos of boys and girls proudly displaying painted stones (and their miniature multihued fingers) Sisseton obviously has some budding artistic talent.
Elaborating on the initiative, prizes are bestowed for One Random Act of Kindness (one enterprising girl did 34!). And an illustration of two adorable cuddling cats watching a sunset posted on the library’s Facebook page was actually acrylic on granite from the Rocks movement.
For the first time this year, adults had a SRP, but tempting fare is plentiful. Images on Facebook slyly suggest borrowing these “Fresh Reads” before getting trapped sans literary entertainment by the next snow storm precede banners for inclement weather closures. You can attend writer talks, the One Book South Dakota group, book discussions or bring your sons and daughters to craft and storytimes.
SML carries six district newpapers from Aberdeen, Sioux Falls, Watertown and even Fargo (positioned in the northeastern corner of SD, the library is much closer to the ND capitol than to Pierre) as well as two local weeklies. Both the Sisseton Courier and the Sota Iya Ye Yapi, the official chronicle of the reservation, are available on microfilm going back to the 1900’s.
Loads of light, watering cans of blossoms and crawling ivies atop stacks and a rocking chair beckoning from a corner make the place a very pleasant spot to while away an afternoon.
Sisseton Memorial Library certainly adds to the reasons to live or visit this region of rolling grasslands and parks, sparkling blue lakes and forested ravines.