Rolling Into Rural Communities: Bookmobiles and Books by Mail Across New Mexico

[Opening strum of Theme Music]

[00:00:00] Berdina Nieto: There is a much bigger digital divide here in New Mexico because of how spread out it is. And there are a lot of things that are kind of rolling into place for rural New Mexico, but it is gonna take some time for them to get an equal access as people who do live in towns or cities. 

[00:00:17] Laura Gonzales: I’m all about rural and making sure that we and my patrons have the things that they need in their communities.

I will make sure if a kid is going out of their way to ask me for a book, trust me, they’re getting it. Even if I buy it outta my own pocket, they’re getting it. And they’re not just patrons, they’re our extended family. They will go above and beyond to help us just the way we go above and beyond to help them.

[00:00:40] Emily Withnall: ¡Bienvenidos! This is Encounter Culture from the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs. I’m your host and editor of El Palacio magazine, Emily Withnall.
[Upbead electronic music]

[00:00:50] Emily: For many of us who rely on reading and sending information on our computers and phones all day, it can be hard to remember that this kind of constant connectivity to information is not the norm for New Mexicans who live outside of the cities. Like many other Western states, our geography is vast. I’ve hosted friends from out of state who have marveled at how many hours you can travel in a car here without seeing a town or a house or a place to refuel. So it stands to reason that the many remote villages and towns and isolated houses would also have no direct access to a brick-and-mortar library. 

This is where two fantastic programs from the New Mexico State Library come in. Books by Mail serves people in rural areas around the state and people within cities who are homebound or require large-print books. And the Bookmobile travels from village to village, offering resources and books to small schools and communities that otherwise have no access to libraries or even Wi-Fi. For anyone who has known the distinct joy of ordering a book and then receiving a thick package in the mail with another world inside, these library services for New Mexicans living high up in the Rockies, out on the Llano Estacado, or in a remote spot in the Chihuahuan Desert are even better, because they are free. 

Please join me for a delightful conversation with Berdina Nieto, the New Mexico State Library Books by Mail librarian and rural services outreach specialist. And Laura Gonzalez, the Northeast Region’s Bookmobile manager, about the many adventures and reading interests that span the state.

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[00:02:57] All right, well, welcome to you both. I’m so excited to talk to you both because I love the library, I grew up in the library. And today I know we’re gonna be talking about two different services that accommodate people who live in rural areas of New Mexico. Just to give you a little background on me, I mostly grew up in Las Vegas, New Mexico, but when I was really young, I lived in Peñasco, and I remember we had to go all the way to Taos to go to the library there. So I don’t know if the Bookmobile existed back then, but I really appreciate the services that you do, and I’d love to have you each introduce yourselves, your names, and also the programs that you work on with the State Library. 

[00:03:38] Laura: My name is Laura Gonzalez. I am the manager of Rural Bookmobile Northeast, which is located in Cimarron, New Mexico. So we’ve been in service there since 1956 and I’m going on almost 13 years overseeing the library there. And I love what I do and I love traveling and meeting everybody in all these small little towns. We love it. We do a great job assisting our patrons. 

[00:04:02] Emily: Nice, nice. 

[00:04:04] Berdina: My name is Berdina Nieto. I started with the New Mexico State Library back in 2019. I had started out with the Library for the Blind and Print Disabled, and this year in March, uh, will be my one-year anniversary as the Books by Mail Librarian. I was very drawn to this position just because I’ve already had some overlap with some of the patrons from the LBPD program, and I grew up very rural as well. So I’m from Santo Domingo Pueblo. It’s now known as Kiva Pueblo, Santa Domingo is the former name. So I know what it’s like to have to kind of spend your whole day just going out to get the necessities, and the library is not really part of that journey. Right? 

[00:04:44] Emily: Right, right. What are the barriers to accessing education and reading and things that you’ve encountered that make these programs so important?

[00:04:55] Laura: So Northeast Bookmobile, we serve 17 schools on our monthly calendar, and a lot of these places, they’re extremely rural areas. You can’t get anywhere in any time, very quickly, anybody that knows the rule, we get the bottom of the barrel when it comes to any type of money and for things that we need. So most of the schools that we serve, they might have a library, but they do not have staffing for it, and so they’re not able to help their students out. So many of them have called for us to come in and help, and they’re the ones that produce the biggest numbers for us. One teacher gave me an example: if she wanted six kids to read one book, she would have to travel total hours, four hours on the road to pick up these books or wait for UPS to bring Amazon and it’s out of her pocket, so they don’t get the things that they need in their school. And most of the thing they need is funding so that they can have a librarian that’s there on campus serving these kids. For now, it works out for us because we get to see these kids, and I’ve been there almost 13 years, so I’m now receiving high school graduation announcements from these kids that I’ve been seeing in the Bookmobile since they started kindergarten. So, it’s really good. They don’t only lack in areas for school, they lack for medical and sometimes for grocery stores. You know, where I’m from, we didn’t have a grocery store for a couple of years, so we had to travel a minimum of 40 miles to go get a gallon of milk. 

[00:06:26] Emily: Wow. Where are you from? 

[00:06:28] Laura: Cimarron. 

[00:06:28] Emily: Okay. 

[00:06:29] Laura: Mm-Hmm. 

[00:06:29] Emily: Yeah. Wow. 

[00:06:30] Berdina: My patrons are in similar boats, and I also serve patrons who are homebound as well due to a disability. So it’s not just the rural nature of New Mexico that I’m serving. My rural patrons are often checking out books on gardening things like vegetables, because like Laura said, they can’t travel all the time to their nearest grocery store, which may be 40, 50 miles out of the way. And some of them are only able to have access to any sort of information by mail, so they are still relying on getting the newspaper. They’re still relying on USPS to bring something and they’re still relying on radio. There is a much bigger digital divide here in New Mexico because of how spread out it is. And there are a lot of things that are kind of rolling into place for rural New Mexico, but it is gonna take some time for them to get an equal access as people who do live in towns or cities. So, just by relying on my services, I do get multiple notes throughout the day as I’m checking in books saying ‘Thank you for sending me this book. I was able to repair my own windmill because of this’. ‘I was able to update my roofing because of this’. So a lot of my patrons are, do-it-your-selfers. Which is really cool because they’re very self-sufficient. 

[00:07:44] Emily: That’s amazing. I love that. 

[00:07:45] Laura: A lot of how-to books. 

[00:07:47] Emily: Yeah. Yeah. I actually have a burning question for you. 

[00:07:50] Laura: Okay. 

[00:07:51] Emily: Because, because I’m so fascinated to know that you’re in these rural schools and the libraries there helping the students. When I went to grad school, I moved up to Montana for eight years, and my kids were really young and went to school there, and I actually ended up teaching poetry in some schools, including some rural Montana schools, and like New Mexico things are really spread out. People don’t have access. But even in the rural schools, there were libraries, and I was so surprised to see that because even in Las Vegas, New Mexico, which has a library in town, there weren’t libraries in the schools. Mm-Hmm. And so I am curious about that. You said that you need funding. Is that through the school system rather than the state library then? Yeah, that they would need that funding.

[00:08:37] Laura: Yes, it doesn’t have anything to do with the state library. It would be through the school system. Oh. And now there’s a shortage all around on even teachers. Which is really not good for those students, but really good for us, again, because we’re gonna help them. And we’ve helped so many homeschool families over the years with their curriculum needs, and like I said, from five years starting to senior year, I’ve watched them grow and even my techs now, they’ve learned their genres and everything these kids want and they have stuff ready for them, constantly ready for them.

Emily: Okay. Wow.

Laura: So it’s a really big deal and we love it. We enjoy doing it. 

Emily: Yeah. Have you seen that your services in these rural areas have helped with literacy? 

Laura: Oh yeah, definitely. Yeah, definitely.

[Upbeat, adventurous music with shakers]

[00:09:20] Emily: So can you describe what the bookmobile looks like and what a typical road trip is like? 

[00:09:30] Laura: Sure. So if you’re cruising with Northeast Bookmobile, it’s pretty cool ’cause we like to listen to music. But basically, the bookmobile is a library on wheels. So there are shelves in there that hold the books. They don’t fall off if we’re making turns or anything, but we do carry about 3,000 books and we try to put a little bit of everything that everybody would want on there. So we travel two weeks out of the month. Our first week, we’re out Monday through Thursday evening, two nights overnight. The second week, Monday through Thursday, all day runs, we’re out nine hours a day. And you’d be surprised, some of that is like four and a half hours of just travel time versus maybe three hours of stop time. We come once a month to those stops and you can carry out as many books as you can hold in your arms. Or if you’re pulling a little wagon, and trust me, they’ve done that. They have shown up with wagons because they wanna make sure they’re gonna get what they can get while we’re there in case we don’t get back because we’re considered high profile. So wind really slows us down. The snow of this year’s been great, but it has slowed us down. It’s just a regular vehicle, kind of looks like a trailer, camping trailer, so to speak. We have a wrap around our bookmobile. It’s Star Route bookmobile and it’s got all the New Mexico authors on that wrap that’s on there. So, but it’s pretty cool. 

[00:10:59] Emily: I would love to hear some of the names of these communities that you go to.

[00:11:03] Laura: So, we service Peñasco. Okay.  

[00:11:05] Emily and Laura: (laughter)

[00:11:06] Laura: I know you said you were there at one time and it’s one of my favorite, uh, areas and we go to Tierra Amarilla, Tres Piedras. We stay in Cuba a couple of nights, but we service Navajo Nation on the other side, Pueblo Pintado, and Torreon, Lindrith School, we do Union County, Des Moines, Harding County, uh, Roy and Mescalero, Pecos. We have about 32 stops, I think, that we go to once a month. 

[00:11:36] Emily: Okay. 

[00:11:37] Laura: And so I have two techs that work in the office and they choose to drive rather than be in the office, which is a bummer for me. But I still get out every now and then. But I did spend probably the first eight years of my job on the road with these patrons.

[00:11:52] Emily: And those are all the places that you named are so gorgeous. I can just imagine, like, driving the bookmobile and wanting to find a pullout just so I could stake in the view. 

[00:12:02] Laura: You know, when I first started with the bookmobile, we started an hour earlier than our schedule just because they wanted to show me some of the places that I hadn’t seen before, even though I was born and raised in the area. You know, where patrons have said that I work their dream jobs, so I guess I’m pretty lucky. I’m all about rural and making sure that we and my patrons have the things that they need in their communities. The kids are so excited. How did you remember what I asked for a month ago? Because if we don’t have it, we’ll find it. You know, I can borrow from the other bookmobiles or do interlibrary loans. I will make sure if a kid is going outta their way to ask me for a book, trust me, they’re getting it. Even if I buy it outta my own pocket, they’re getting it. And they’re not just patrons, they’re extended family. They will go above and beyond to help us just the way we go above and beyond to help them. And you know, I was born and raised in Cimarron and very involved in my community. I was worried about them when something happens, but little did I know how much they worried about us. You know, we had the 2018 Ute Park fire and couldn’t get there. We ended up having to evacuate and our patrons were calling to check on us, what do you need? In fact, a lot of our patrons were bringing in supplies to my community. 

[00:13:12] Emily: Wow. 

[00:13:13] Laura: To make sure their library staff is taken care of. So that’s the connection we make with our rural patrons, and it is a big deal, and it’s so important to them and to us that we are a part of their lives. 

[00:13:23] Emily: Yeah. 

[00:13:24] Laura: But we just had to leave out of one of our stops a while back because they have a brick-and-mortar library now, so it’s fully developed. Once they’re fully developed, we move on. It doesn’t mean that our patrons like it, but it worries them. They don’t like when things are taken away, don’t subtract and not add. It’s a big deal in rural America. But they decided they were gonna come see us somewhere else, so they drive 30 miles to go see us somewhere else. 

[00:13:48] Emily: Oh, wow. 

[00:13:49] Laura: And they still utilize their community library, but they still wanna be a part of our life too. We have patrons coming to the bookmobile that started with the bookmobile in 1956. They’re still coming. 

[00:14:01] Emily: Wow. That´s incredible. 

[00:14:05] Laura: They’re still coming. They are fully dedicated. 

[00:14:07] Emily: Mm-Hmm 

[00:14:08] Laura: Mm-Hmm. If we move, they move. They don’t care. They’ll find us. It’s pretty cool.

[Music bridge]

[00:14:16] Berdina: So, Books by Mail originally started in 1975. Next year is going to be the 50th anniversary. It came out of a need to bring reading material and educational material to rural New Mexico, and it started off with four staff members. So serving statewide, everything done by the USPS, so they’re a great partner for us. And as time went on and it became easier to purchase the large print books, then the program opened up into letting in people who qualified for the Library for the Blind and Print Disabled services. So, Books by Mail has over 6,000 titles that are available in large print, and that is the most popular collection. In 2019, this was one of the projects I worked on with my co-worker at the time and with the former Books by Mail librarian. Where Books by Mail is now able to send out Free Matter materials, meaning the large print can go out completely free for people who do qualify for LBPD services. So this program was recognized in 1975. Again, everything was spread out. Many people weren’t able to access their library, and there’s a huge history behind libraries in New Mexico as well. There’s a lot of different pioneers. Unfortunately, a lot of the history has been kind of hard to find out about Books by Mail, just ’cause it is in rural services.

[00:15:37] Uh, rural services is kind of the quiet hero of the state library program to where it is direct to patrons. There’s not really any middle partners that are facilitating this program. It’s just coming out directly from the New Mexico State Library. I have books that were purchased pretty much when the library was open, so I can see the need of what this library was built upon, and a lot of it is just the do-it-yourself books.

[00:16:03] I have a book about how to repair a toilet from the 1970s. So, it is out of a need to get some type of education out to people to make sure they’re living sustainably, to make sure that they’re able to live independently wherever they may live. Because New Mexico, I think everyone does fall in love with the landscape and many people have lived in the same places that their families were all born of. Like, my family has lived in the same area for hundreds of years. I mean, it’s very easy to, like, stay in one place. Growing up, I was able to travel throughout New Mexico because my family members were jewelers, so I got to see a lot of New Mexico from a very young age. Just knowing the areas that my patrons are from has made it easier for me to appreciate what my services can bring to them. Like I mentioned, I receive notes, I also receive phone calls and emails. One woman called me just to tell me ‘thank you’. Another one just always sends a thank you note every single time, and a lot of times she sends very cute cards. And one time she told me, ‘I’m so glad you sent me Braiding Sweetgrass because it reminded me of where I grew up, which was in Montana. I did not grow up here in New Mexico. But there’s a lot of similarities between the two, and I moved to New Mexico not knowing anything, and this program has been very educational for me. It’s helped me learn a lot about the area I live in. It’s helped me stay connected to the works that authors are putting out, and it’s helped me keep up to date’. So, it’s more than just providing the fun literature. Which mysteries and romantics are probably one of the things that come out the most. It’s giving them the type of education they need. It’s very curated to what the patrons are asking for. 

[00:17:50] Emily: That’s wonderful. Do you have books also that are in different languages besides English that you send out?

[00:17:56] Berdina: I do have Spanish books. As I mentioned, it is like the quiet portion of the New Mexico State Library. With that, there wasn’t a lot of growth in the collection, so Spanish is one, but even at that, it’s probably just the very basic children’s books. So, if I’ve started purchasing more and as they become available, I try to get them into my collection because there’s Vietnamese, there’s German, and a lot of the time it just depends on the vendor if we’re able to purchase from them.

[00:18:25] Emily: Okay. Okay.

[00:18:25] Berdina: But we do utilize apps as well, like Hoopla and the Palace Project. So those apps do have several languages…

[00:18:33] Laura: Mm-Hmm. 

[00:18:34] Berdina: …that are available as well.

[00:18:35] Emily: Okay. So, if someone wants to participate and get some books sent to them, is there a website for that or how do they access that? 

[00:18:44] Berdina: Yeah, to register with Books by Mail in the program, they can either send me an email and I would just ask them a few questions, like, their mailing address and just get ’em enrolled that way. Same thing is over the phone. There’s also a registration form that people can mail in, so it’s one page of information they need to fill out. It’s very easy to apply for Books by Mail. There’s very little rejections or people that don’t qualify because I don’t ask the specifics. I don’t need to know. Why you’re checking off homebound, you know yourself best. So I’m gonna go with you and I wanna just be able to provide the reading material for you. 

[00:19:25] Emily: That’s great. 

[00:19:24] Laura: We work hand in hand. We do pretty good together. She does pick up a lot of my patrons once they can no longer come see me. 

[00:19:31] Emily: Right, right. Yeah, that makes sense. We’ll make sure to list all that contact information for people in the notes for the episode. 

[Music and promo]

[00:19:40] Emily: I’ve often thought of librarians as magicians. Beyond helping you find the book you’re seeking, it seems like they always know just where to look to find the answer to any question. The New Mexico State Library is so much more than a place filled with books, though it is that too. The library’s primary mission is to promote library services and access to information to all citizens of New Mexico. And when we say all, that’s a tall order given the vast reaches of our geography. The state library provides reading materials and research services for the blind and print disabled, for rural community members through Books by Mail and our ever-popular bookmobiles. They also support librarians across the state with items to add to their enchanted toolkit, from the tribal libraries program to summer reading programs for our youngest patrons. And of course, let’s not forget one of my favorite realms of magic: The New Mexico State Library Poetry Center where you can learn about our state’s Poet Laureate and discover even more New Mexico poetry. Explore the library’s research and digital resources, get the bookmobile schedule, or find your local library at Did you know the New Mexico CulturePass is now available to purchase online? CulturePass gives you access to each of the 15 state museums and historic sites we feature on Encounter Culture. Reserve your culture pass today at

[Music fades, promo ends]

[00:21:37] Emily: So, in addition to how-to’s, romances, and mysteries, are there other trends with the bookmobile in particular of things people like to check out? 

[00:21:46] Laura: So, our Southwest section is pretty huge. Anything related to the area on that side of the state. And I probably have one of the best Southwest collections. I say that, I don’t care if you have one or not, but mine’s better. And so that’s utilized a lot on the bookmobile, and again homeschool material also. But we do a majority of fiction and mystery that is their pick and large print. You know, as we get older, I’m getting to the large print section myself these days, and kids’ books, our circulation for kids’ books is huge, huge. And our schools not only check out the actual physical book, they also all are registered on Hoopla. 

[00:22:27] Emily: Okay. 

[00:22:28] Laura: And those would come from assignments from their teachers too. So my hoopla statistics are really up there as well. 

[00:22:33] Emily: Nice. What do kids like to read? 

[00:22:36] Laura: Kids will be kids, but you’d be surprised. Some of these kids, they look for books that I would never imagine a kid’s gonna ask for because they wanna help their parent. If they come from a single-parent household, they wanna help mom cook. So, they’re taking cookbooks or they want to know what they can do, how to plant, uh, gardens, so they can pitch in for groceries somehow or another, or they want books on how to get compost together. Just different things. 

[00:23:06] Emily: That’s awesome.

I remember my kids, I would take ’em to the library and my oldest would go straight to the fiction, the fantasy and stuff like that, and my youngest would go straight to the nonfiction, to the animal facts. 

[00:23:19] Laura: Yes. 

Emily: She wanted to know all the animal facts. 

Laura: Sports. I’m forever ordering sports books. 

Emily: Yeah. 

Laura: They gotta have it.

Emily: What sports in particular? 

Laura: Basketball, football, baseball. 

Emily: Okay, okay. 

Laura: Mm-Hmm. 

Emily: Some soccer?

Laura: Basketball’s the main one, probably. 

Emily: Okay. Okay. 

Laura: Lot of the smaller schools don’t have soccer, so they’re not really into it.

[00:23:38] Emily: Okay. Oh, yeah. (laughs) 

And do you bring Wi-Fi? Is that a part of that? 

[00:23:40] Laura: Mm-Hmm. We have a satellite on our bookmobile and patrons can connect to the satellite while we are at their stop and utilize it for anything they need to. We also have laptops and tablets available for checkout. 

Emily: Oh, nice. 

Laura: So they have access to those as well, because a lot of rural areas way out there, they don’t have internet. 

Emily: Yeah, yeah. 

Laura: I mean, they’re lucky to have the basics that you and I might take for granted.

[00:24:04] Emily: If they’re not able to use it on a daily basis ’cause they don’t have Wi-Fi to begin with: What types of things are they using it for when you come with the bookmobile? 

Laura: Mostly to pay bills or make appointments. 

Emily: Okay. 

Laura: Stuff like that. 

Emily: Yeah. 

Laura: Mm-Hmm. Anything research-wise, I’ll just ask it, we’ll print it, and we’ll bring it out. 

Emily: Right. 

Laura: We had a patron that would call the library on a daily basis. Can you look up on your magic machine there? And he’d ask some random stuff and we’d be okay. 

Emily: That’s awesome. (laughs)

[Music bridge]

[00:24:45] Emily: So, I’d love to hear just a little bit about each of you personally and maybe what drew you to working in the library to begin with? 

[00:24:51] Berdina: I used to work in finance, actually. I’m a very people-first person, and when finance changed from that into more of a people-are-profit position, I decided, well, it’s time for me to move on to something else. I care about people first. I care about what’s going on in their lives. I care about what I can give to them rather than what can I gain from these people. So when I was looking for a new position, the New Mexico State Library came up. As I looked through, I’m like, well, I might as well give the library a try because when I was younger, I wanted to be a librarian, but I also didn’t know how to take that path. I didn’t know where to go or how to get my education. And because, uh, my parents made too much money, according to FAFSA, I didn’t get a scholarship. And at the same time, as most teenagers are, I was very, like, stubborn, so I was, like, I’m ready to just get into work, and it was kind of like a dream come true, like, just seeing an opening at the New Mexico State Library, then going into the Library for the Blind and Print Disabled – that is where I got a bulk of my experience as far as providing advice to the readers, like, saying, oh, you liked this author, you might wanna give this other author a try. 

[00:26:03] So, since I was doing that on a daily basis and talking to people on a daily basis about where they’re from, who they are, when Theresa, the former Books by Mail librarian, approached me stating that she was ready to retire and she would like to train me a little bit on what she does and decided why don’t I apply for her job? Like, what can it hurt? Because it did not require a master’s degree. It just required several years of customer service, which I do have, and I went for it. I just felt so incredibly lucky to get that position. Theresa and I still talk every now and then, and I tell her a small update about what’s going on with the library, some changes I’ve made, ask her for advice. She is just such a wonderful person. I feel so happy whenever, like, she reaches out to me just to ask how things are going. I still send her a quarterly catalog. In case I haven’t mentioned it: I am the only staff member for the Books by Mail program, so I do everything, that is from collection development to creating the catalog to doing all of the small 75 tasks it takes in a day to run a library. This is just my first real jumping in headfirst into the library world sort of deal. 

[00:27:18] Emily: Right? Yeah.

[00:27:20] Berdina: So it’s, it’s been a lot of fun. It’s been very educational and then because like I do have, like, a lot of personal experience and I’m a very personable person, patrons will call, like, just to get their book order and then tell me what’s going on in their world and then I’ll do the same. One of my patrons actually called me earlier while I was eating and I still answered the phone for her, ’cause technology has been a wonderful thing in improving, like, how efficiently I can do the tasks. And I told her, ‘okay, I’m just gonna text this out to myself. I’m on my cell phone’. She was all, ‘oh my goodness, how am I talking to you on your cell phone? I called your office phone’, and so I told her technology, they linked it, and now I’m able to talk to you wherever I’m at, and just as long as I’m able to take notes, you’re gonna get your books. 

[00:28:07] Emily: Mm-Hmm.

[00:28:08] Berdina: And she was just, like, ‘that’s so great’. And then it went to, ‘so, whatcha eating?’ (laughter) And she, she is, like, ‘well, I hope you eat very good’. 

[00:28:17] Laura: Swapping recipes is a big one. 

[00:28:21] Berdina: Oh yeah. Cookbooks are huge.

[00:28:20] Emily: When you’re adding to the collection, do you choose based on what people are asking for primarily, or how do you decide what you add to your collection? 

[00:28:30] Berdina: So there’s several steps I actually do to develop the collection. So a lot of it does come from patrons where they’ll ask me for a specific title. If I can’t get it through interlibrary loan, if I can’t get it from the bookmobiles, then I’ll look into purchasing the book for my collection: ’cause if one person wants it, somebody else might. That is the first step into doing that. The second step is to be aware of all of the best sellers that are going around. That would be things like the New York Times, Book List Reader from the American Library Association, and even things like Bookstagram and book talk lists that are online, that gives a really good idea of what young adults are reading, as well as what children’s books are trending as well. So, there’s a huge process. It takes me about a week to do, just to make sure I’m kind of covering every single genre, every single topic that I think is going to build a collection up in a really colorful way. 

[00:29:25] Emily: I love that. I didn’t get to help with this, but I worked very briefly in the library at the United World College in Montezuma, and I remember the librarian, she was in charge of developing the collection, but she would ask the oldest, most formidable English teacher that everyone, like, both loved and feared for her recommendations for books, and she would build her collection off of that a lot of times. (laughs)

[00:29:51] Laura: You know, you’d be surprised, but our wishlist from our patrons, it’s bigger than Santa’s list. I’m just saying. 

[00:29:59] Emily: Yeah, yeah. 

[00:30:02] Laura: But they do, they know what they want. They know what they want. 

[00:30:07] Emily: And so what brought you into the library? 

[00:30:09] Laura: Well, so believe it or not, I actually left Cimarron after I graduated high school and I moved to Albuquerque, so I lived there for about 20 years. I moved back to Cimarron in 2009 when my parents started to become ill to help them, and I was a single mom, so I also needed help. Honestly, I got lucky getting the library job. They knew my history and knew who I was, told me there was an opening if I’d be interested in coming in as a tech. And I did go in as a tech. I was lucky to get the job. I didn’t think libraries were ever for me, I have to be out there and it’s very quiet in libraries, so I ended up loving it and I wouldn’t leave it now at all, and I’ve learned quite a bit from it and back in school myself and doing some stuff. But what’s different from my bookmobile to the other two bookmobiles in the state is we actually have an open library, so our library’s open in our community. 

[00:31:01] Emily: Oh, okay. 

[00:31:02] Laura: The other two bookmobiles, they’re bookmobile warehouses, so they don’t have open libraries where they’re at. 

[00:31:07] Emily: Can you say more about that? ‘Cause I’m not sure I understand the distinction. 

[00:31:11] Laura: Brick-and-mortar, we’re open. 

[00:31:12] Emily: Okay. Yeah. Yeah. Okay. 

[00:31:13] Laura: Open to the public where theirs is, just a warehouse to restock the bookmobile. 

[00:31:15] Emily: Ah, I see, I see. Okay. 

[00:31:19] Laura: Mm-Hmm. So we’re open Monday through Friday. We have regular library hours there, so I get to see all my patrons in town as well. 

[00:31:28] Emily: Oh, nice. 

[00:31:29] Laura: And it’s a big asset to Cimarron. A huge asset. So we share a space in the government building there in Cimarron. 

[00:31:34] Emily: Do you both, and you can obviously answer this separately, but do you both read a lot so, you know, like, what to recommend to people if they ask?

[Adventurous, upbeat music]

[00:31:43] Laura: You don’t always wanna recommend though. (laughter)

I recommended a few titles to a few patrons and I’m gonna tell you what, they’re gonna let you know that they don’t like that book. (laughter) And they might not be too nice about it, and at the end, we’re laughing about it, but yeah, it’s all good. 

[00:32:02] Emily: Right? 

[00:32:03] Berdina: Yeah, I make my recommendations in a very quiet sort of way. When I draft my quarterly catalog, I use a symbol of a bird. Next to what I would recommend they read, and then at the back of the catalog, I have boxes they can check off next to the books call number and they’re divided up by list. One of those lists is librarian’s recommendation, so they can check off the ones that I am recommending. (laughs) But yeah, Laura’s right, they’ll tell you. ‘Yeah, I read that book you recommended, and it wasn’t my thing’ (laughter) and I’m a very fantasy-oriented person, so… 

[00:32:38] Laura: She gets phone calls, I get it in person, so…

[00:32:42] Berdina: Yeah, I have it at least easier so they can’t see my disappointed face. (laughter)

[Upbeat music briefly increases in tempo]

[00:32:49] Emily: Do you ever get, like, the opposite where you recommend something and they’re happy to help…

[00:32:55] Laura: … and then they want more? Mm-Hmm. 

[00:32:56] Emily: Okay. 

[00:32:57] Berdina: Yeah, like, just recently, one of my patrons, she’s kind of having a harder time, like, reading the catalog. But she does use a magnifying glass, so she just told me, if you can pick out books for me anytime I call, that’ll be great. But let’s try it first. So I’m not gonna tell you what I like reading. Just pick out books that you think that I should read. So I just went ahead and picked out a few mysteries I had read and a couple of romances – I had never really known her to be a romance person. I picked a few from my Southwest collection to send to her, and then just after about a month of having those books, she sent them back and with the little card she goes, ‘I loved what you sent me, every single book I love. So, I want those genres we picked out and then I want more of the Southwest collection’. 

[00:33:40] Emily: Nice.

[00:33:43] Laura: It’s good when you can get ’em to branch out. ‘Cause sometimes they do get stuck on their favorite author, which is fine. But that author might only put out a book every couple, three years, so.

[00:33:49] Emily: Right. And actually, speaking of the Southwest collection, I wanna hear about why yours is the best. 

[00:33:55] Laura: Because it’s the best. So, we have what’s called a local historian in our community. And Cimarron’s got a lot of history anyway. I don’t know if you’re familiar with it. So, he did a lot of research during the time he has been there. He’s not doing so well, but he’s one of my favorite people. He donated his Southwest collection to me. 

[00:34:14] Emily: Oh wow. 

[00:34:15] Laura: Uh, it’s used in our library as reference only actually, because it will go into the Old Mill Museum once he passes. 

[00:34:22] Emily: Okay. 

[00:34:23] Laura: But he wanted it on display and I took care of that for him and made it happen. So that is why my Southwest collection is exceptionally great. He read every single book and a book led into a book, into a book, into a book. So there’s, there’s probably a good 400 books there that he has…

[00:34:39] Emily: Wow. 

[00:34:40] Laura: …showing in display there at this time, and the history alone, where we’re at. 

[00:34:43] Emily: I’m gonna have to get some recommendations from you. (laughs)

[00:34:52] Laura: You can visit. You can visit anytime. 

[00:34:53] Berdina: Just saying my Southwest collection is pretty huge. (laughs)

[00:34:55] Emily: Yeah. (laughs)

[00:34:56] Berdina: I’m actually in the middle of trying to reorganize it just so the sun isn’t hitting it ’cause I do have a lot of out-of-print and rare Southwest books. So these were kind of written in the early days of when they were utilizing the printing press and things like that. So, I’m actually going into the process of seeing which books should probably just start being displayed, like, in person only. ‘Cause there is a lot of wear and tear when books go through the mail. A lot of times books will come back and the pages are falling out because they were knocking around too many times. 

[00:35:25] Laura: Mm-hmm. 

[00:35:26] Berdina: Through the mailing process, it just makes it a little bit difficult to part with a book for me when it’s kind of had its spine broken since I don’t have any, like, book repair expertise and I’m not sure where to send that yet, so. 

[00:35:43] Emily: Mm-Hmm. 

[00:35:44] Berdina: So yeah, that’s the hardest part is letting a book go. 

[00:34:45] Emily: Yeah. (laughs)

[00:35:25] Laura: Especially those rare ones. 

Berdina: Mm-Hmm 

Laura: Mm-Hmm. 

Emily: Yeah. So then, does that mean that there are books in your collection that aren’t available anywhere else? 

[00:35:55] Berdina: I believe so. I haven’t done too much research into it because this would be my first time handling very old books. So, I’m guessing, like, as the collection was being developed throughout the years, the librarians just kept putting them into circulation. So, just sending them out to whoever asks. Luckily, there’s maybe, like, two or three copies of the same title. It’s just that when all of the other titles disappear, that’s kind of hard to get back.

[Calming guitar music]

[00:36:34] Emily: I’d love to hear: are there any new changes that either of you’re making to your programs, new ideas, in the works? 

[00:36:41] Laura: So for Northeast Bookmobile, we’re now currently on a two-week schedule. We were on a three-week schedule out every month. The two-week schedule allows us two weeks to go do some outreach so that we can have more stops, bring in more stops. We also go do existing stops and find out why you’re not coming to our bookmobile. What, why can we get you there? Tell us what we can do. 

[00:37:05] Emily: Right. 

[00:37:06] Laura: So, we spend a lot of time in those rural areas doing that. I also run a really huge reading program every summer in my community. 50 to 60 kids enrolled in it. We incorporated a beautification project into our reading program to teach our kids to give back to their community, and we’ve done a couple of murals and some tree benches and just clean up painting and stuff just to beautify the park and stuff that we utilize for program. We’re hoping to go bigger with that again this year with our kids, we kick off with first responders so that they get to know that these men and women are our friends. Don’t be afraid of ’em. We do stuff like that. We wanna branch out bigger with our reading program and hopefully bring in some other communities that don’t have the funds to do it, or no place to do it, and they can join in with us. So, that’s something we’re looking at doing this year too. But as far as the bookmobile’s concerned, definitely we wanna add as many stops as we can get. 

[00:37:58] Emily: Does the reading program entail more than each person reading lots of books or, like, what is involved with it? 

[00:38:01] Laura: Oh yeah. We have our reading time. Don’t get me wrong, reading program. 

[00:38:05] Emily: Yeah, yeah. 

[00:38:06] Laura: But you’re not gonna keep a child reading for more than ten minutes, let’s face it. That’s the reality of it. We do a lot of games. We have a lot of special guests that come in and visit, like Batman shows up every now and then. 

[00:38:15] Emily: Oh wow. 

[00:38:16] Laura: Of course, we utilize our own services. The Wow Van Wonders On Wheel Come visit. This year, we’re doing a huge 80th birthday party for Smokey Bear. 

[00:38:26] Emily: Okay. 

[00:38:27] Laura: We’re looking at bringing in a petting zoo, just different things to keep ’em active, and we do craft projects or whatever beautification is that we’re working on the project. The first mural we did, we spent over 270 hours putting that mural together. 

[00:38:43] Emily: Wow.

[00:38:43] Laura: It was huge. And it was all paid for in donations, all of it. 

[00:38:46] Emily: Oh, that’s incredible. 

[00:38:47] Laura: And the kids really loved it. When their kids see that that’s their work out there, they really get into it. So it depends on what project we put into place this year, I’m kind of handing over the torch to one of my techs ’cause I’ve been doing it for a while and I want ’em to learn the process, so I’m right there for support. (laughs)

[00:39:03] Emily: Yeah. Yeah. That’s wonderful. 

[00:39:05] Laura: Mm-Hmm. 

[00:39:06] Emily: Do you both have a special book that you would recommend? 

[00:39:10] Berdina: I guess I’ll start ’cause I already know. So.. 

[00:39:05] Laura: Go ahead. 

Berdina: Mine is actually a young adult novel, probably more like middle school aged than later, young adult, but it is called, Dealing With Dragons by Patricia C. Reed. 

Emily: (delighted) I love that book! 

Berdina: Oh my god, you know it. (laughter) I never, like, ran into anyone in person that knows it. I mean, other than my partner.  

[00:39:31] Emily: I dressed up as Cimorene for Halloween as a teenager.

[00:39:39] Berdina: I used to, I used to carry on a pet dragon named Kazul. 

[00:39:41] Emily: That’s amazing. 

[00:39:43] Berdina: A stuffed dragon, not a real dragon. 

Emily: Yeah.

Berdina: I wish it was a real dragon, but yeah, because Cimorene taught me so much, just ’cause a lot of the book is just she’s trying to be strong. She’s trying to be her own person. She doesn’t want her parents to tell her what to do or what to be. She just wants to be a princess that knows how to fence, knows how to cook, and knows how to ride a horse, and do other things that typical princesses don’t. So that book has always been very near and dear to my heart.

[00:40:12] Laura: For me, I don’t know if I’ve got a specific actual title, but I really do like the Beverly Lewis books, the inspirational books, mostly because those were my mom’s favorite books. And so, as soon as I got the job at the library, she said, ‘oh, I’m so lucky now ’cause I’ll get the first book right away when it comes out ‘cause now you’re there’. So every time I get a Beverly Lewis book and my mom’s been gone for about seven years now, so I hold onto it for a little bit. I don’t necessarily read it all, but just for a little bit. It’s kind of a feel-good situation for me. But no specific book besides the Silversteins probably, but those, ’cause I read to the kids during program. 

[00:40:48] Emily: I love Where the Sidewalk Ends

[00:40:51] Laura: Mm-Hmm. Those books really make the kids think. 

Emily: Yeah

Laura: It’s pretty cool. They’re like, ‘what? How, when did it happen’? They’re really cool books. 

[00:40:57] Emily: Yeah, I used to, what is it called? The “I cannot go to school today,” Said little Peggy Ann McKay. I would recite that whole poem to my kids whenever they would whine about going to school. (laughs)

[00:41:08] Laura: Circulation is still on point. You’d be surprised. 

[00:41:13] Emily: And how about you? Any new developments or plans for the future? 

[00:41:17] Berdina: Yeah, I went into it, like, I’m gonna try to keep everything the same, just so I learn the program. But I can’t do that. I’m a very creative person. Once I kind of got the handle on the reins, on, like, the daily processes of checking books in, checking books out, learning how to register patrons, I looked around and thought to myself, what else could I do here? What can I do to make it easier for patrons to find me? A lot of the changes I’ve made already were changes to the websites.  I’ve made changes to how the books go out that way that they’re a little bit more reinforced and not getting super bent outta shape. That’s like the important, not super fun thing, but it’s fun for me.

[00:41:59] But mainly back in 2018, I believe it might have actually been 2008, the Books by Mail program had to cut one of their quarterly catalogs just due to budget cuts, due to staffing being low at the time, so they had cut it back to just three catalogs per year. I really wanted to bring back the fourth catalog, and that’s what I’m implementing this year. Just ’cause I’m very familiar with technology, I’m very happy to throw something together pretty quickly. So, just learning little ways to cut corners, but to cut corners in a way where I’m not diminishing the quality. Rather, like, I’m trying to enhance the quality. And then as far as utilizing technology, I finally got access to hoopla when that wasn’t something that the Books by Mail patrons weren’t able to get. Just because my program does do things very differently from other libraries in front of bookmobiles, I just wanna make it easier in a way for patrons. So a lot of the time my creative thing is going, how can I utilize technology to make it easy? 

Laura: She’s pretty good. 

Emily: Yeah. Nice.

[00:43:04] Laura: We did a presentation together for the NMLA conference, so she did the PowerPoint presentation, and wow. It was pretty cool. 

Emily: Yeah, yeah. 

Laura: She’s really good at it. 

[00:43:13] Emily: And so I know she likes the fantasy books. What do you like? 

[00:43:16] Laura: Oh, I don’t know. I go all over the board with my reading. Mostly, now I’m reading math stuff. It’s kind of boring, but I do a lot of true crime stuff. 

Emily: Okay. 

Laura: And I do a lot of history stuff too, though, so I’m kind of all over the board. 

Emily: Nice. 

Laura: You’ll never figure me out. I like it that way. 

Emily: Yeah. Yeah. 

[Optimistic music]

[00:43:35] Emily: So, if you had all the budget you wanted and you could wave a magic wand, what would you do for your programs? 

[00:43:44] Laura: I’d have a bigger library. 

Emily: Yeah. 

Laura: A way bigger library with just one level designated to just the kids. Yeah, and if I had all that money too, all those kids would have librarians in their libraries. 

Emily: Yeah. (laughs) 

Laura: Makes a difference. 

Emily: Mm-Hmm

Laura: Mm-Hmm. And we could probably use another bookmobile in the state. We have three right now, but a fourth one would really do it. 

[00:44:08] Berdina: I’m very excited to tell you mine because it’s actually a plan I wanna put in a process. What I would love is for Books by Mail to have another office on the south side of the state, and I would like to have two library techs in each office as well as another librarian. That way there is someone that’s able to develop the collection and the library techs are able to do all of the daily processes, and then the librarian can just develop things that are constantly being able to be sent out to the rest of New Mexico. And then maybe, like, kind of push a little bit more into the broadband project so that way more patrons can have access to the internet and more access to the necessities that they need. Yeah, that’s my dream. I would like it to be a very statewide program and not just me running around. 

Emily: Yeah. 

Berdina: It’s a lot of fun, don’t get me wrong, but the dreams I have for this program are much bigger than I can do at this time. 

[00:45:04] Emily: Yeah, I’m so glad that you guys are in your roles and doing what you do. I think librarians or magicians, I love going into libraries with a question because the librarian always finds it for me, so…

Laura: We’ll find the answer. 

Emily: Yeah. (laughs) Perhaps, like me, this episode has inspired you to plan a trip to Cimarron to check out the fabulous Southwest collection at their fully functional bookmobile office and library, or if a road trip isn’t in the cards for you, Berdina can supply you with books from her extensive Southwest collection or anything else you might want to read.

To learn more about each of these programs, visit Direct links to the Book by Mail and Bookmobile pages are available in the episode’s show notes. Happy reading!

[Music fades into Theme Music Closing Credits]

[00:46:09] Emily: Encounter Culture is a production of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs

Our producer is Andrea Klunder at The Creative Impostor Studios. 

Season six is produced and edited by Andrea Klunder and Alex Riegler with additional editing by Monica Braine

Our recording engineer is Kabby at Kabby Sound Studios in Santa Fe.

Technical direction and post-production audio by Edwin R. Ruiz. 

Our executive producer is Daniel Zillmann.

Thank you to New Mexico artist “El Brujo” D’Santi Nava for our theme music.

For a full transcript and show notes, visit or click the link in the episode description in your listening app.

I’m your host, Emily Withnall.

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[Theme music fades out]