Vern and Shireen Liebl are looking for their permanent home, and hope it’s in Wyoming. But a must-have for their next hometown is a good library.
For the last three and a half months, the Liebls have been crisscrossing the Cowboy State on a quest to visit every library in the state. Basing their adventures out of an Airbnb in Thermopolis, the couple has visited 16 Wyoming libraries since August.
“I am in love with books and bookstores,” said Vern. “I think that one of the finest smells in the world is to go into an old bookstore, or used bookstore, and just inhale the essence of the paper.”
It All Started In A Library
Vern and Shireen met in a library at the University of Utah.
“She was getting her doctorate, and she managed to make me stay long enough to get a master’s degree,” said Vern, adding that they “also dated in the library a lot. We did our homework together, but we called it a date.”
Vern’s Marine Corps career in military intelligence took the two around the world. And everywhere they went, they found libraries.
“When I was back on the East Coast, I went to the National Library there,” said Vern. “I lived in the Marine Corps University Library. I would go to any library I could find.”
From the Library of Congress to the stacks at the University of Baghdad, Vern explored them all. Except for a few.
“I couldn’t find a library in Kabul in Afghanistan, but I found a couple of good bookstores,” he said. “Until the Taliban blew it up.”
When You Can’t Have Something …
Shireen was born in New York, but grew up in Islamabad, Pakistan. At her school, most books were off-limits.
“We had a tiny little library, and the few books they had were in these locked glass cases, I kid you not,” she said. “We would go in there once a month for the ‘library day,’ and we were not allowed to go near the books. We just had to sit at the tables, and there were some magazines and a few odds and ends.”
But Shireen’s mother, who worked part time as a substitute English teacher at the American International School in Islamabad, would bring home books for her to read.
“Laura Ingalls, the ‘Little House on the Prairie’ series, all kinds of other stuff,” said Shireen. “So, she really encouraged my love of reading.”
Vern’s father, on the other hand, had a veritable library in his home office – but those books were off limits to young Vern.
“He had his own little personal library of all kinds of books, and being kind of a selfish man he told me, no misunderstanding, he said, ‘You will never touch my books,’” Vern said. “So of course, what did I do? Whenever he was gone, I rifled through all those books. I said, ‘There must be something in here that’s cool.’”
Wyoming Library Tour
The couple’s Wyoming 74 public library tour could have started in Jackson, but they missed out because they took a 44-mile bike ride. So they started with the Cody library, then moved on to the public library in Meeteetse just down the road.
“It’s part of the school, and it’s so small. I think that the poor lady that was working in there hadn’t seen any human beings all summer,” said Vern.
The public library in the tiny town of Basin is a “hidden gem,” according to Vern.
“It’s got so many old books, and they’re tucked into corners, and they’re just lovely,” he said.
The couple had a standout experience at the public library in Glenrock.
“It looks like a small library, but they have a basement, and it apparently has been refurbished with loving care,” said Vern. “And they have these skylights up there, and it’s like blonde wood, and it just feels so light and airy – and they have stacks of books and a cozy reading room with a fireplace.”
The library in Douglas appeared like any other brick building from the outside – but then they stepped inside.
“You go up to the second floor, and they have these corner reading rooms that are full glass that just look out over the town,” said Vern. “It’s all about Indian books and artifacts, and it’s just warm, and it’s just so comfortable.”
And the ladies who run the Ten Sleep library were outstanding, they said.
“The ladies up there, they work with the school, and they are so funny,” said Vern. “There’s at least three of them. They’re just hilarious, and they’re so dedicated.”
Some libraries they were unable to check out because they had limited open hours, such as the libraries in Glendo and Chugwater.
“I just love to say the word ‘Chugwater,’” Vern laughed.
The Wyoming Reading Room at the Wheatland library was a lovely surprise, according to the Liebls.
“It was all Western writers – Louis L’Amour, Zane Grey,” said Vern. “And they had a pole in which they set up a stack of books, they wired them all together, and it was like 8 feet tall. It was just magnificent.”
And although unimpressed with the building itself, Vern got a kick out of the name of the library in Ranchester.
“It’s the Tongue River Library,” said Vern. “I mean, what a cool name.”
Visitors are treated to a bonus when they go to the library in Greybull.
“It’s small, but it’s right across the literal hall from the (Greybull) Museum,” said Vern. “You get two-for-one bucks out of that. It’s just wonderful there.”
A sad moment came when the Liebls visited the town library in Shoshoni, only to be told that it was going to be shut down.
“It’s just a little tiny library shoehorned in with the visitor center, and it’s being shut down,” said Vern. “Apparently nobody goes to it.”
Every library has its own personality, Vern pointed out.
Shireen, in particular, is drawn to the Carnegie libraries – libraries built between 1883 and 1929 with money donated by Scottish-American businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.
But she was dismayed to discover that the Carnegie Library that was built in Cheyenne in 1902 had been demolished in 1971.
“That’s a travesty that I just can’t reconcile how someone could determine that they need to be torn down, these historical buildings?” she said.
In an upcoming trip, the Liebls are planning to check out the Carnegie Library in Buffalo, which is now home to the Jim Gatchell Museum.
“We’re going to all the old hotels in Wyoming too,” said Shireen. “And so we’re actually slated to go and stay in the Occidental (in Buffalo), and we are definitely going to check that out.”
The Liebls found that the people who staff Wyoming’s libraries are dedicated, engaging folks.
“They’re all really funny people, and friendly,” said Vern. “And most of them seem so dedicated to the preservation of the library system.”
Shireen said, though, that she is concerned that fewer people are making use of these public buildings, which serve so many other purposes, as her husband pointed out.
“Take the Thermopolis library,” said Vern. “They have a once-a-month movie night, and they have a little dinner that goes with it. They sponsor speakers – they’re sponsoring my wife to give a presentation on women in Afghanistan. They’re multi-use facilities. It’s not just the books.”
In the eyes of Vern and Shireen, public libraries are treasures that often go unappreciated.
“It’s one of my quests to always check out libraries and how generous – you can take unlimited books out and and you can renew them,” said Shireen. “I mean, these things are taken for granted here, but not by me.”