New Pioneer Girl Project blog post! http://ht.ly/m6LUV
A few weeks ago, our director blogged about the questions applicants had asked her during a recent round of job interviews. One of the queries was, “What do you like about your job?” Reading this post caused me to think about how I would answer that question. While I enjoy coming to work simply because the Cultural Heritage Center is a unique building and the staff of the South Dakota State Historical Society is a fun and hard-working group of people, there are particulars about my own position that I find intriguing, interesting, and challenging.
I get to do several things in the course of a week. I have the flow of a routine, but I also have the variety that comes with having that routine interrupted. The SDSHS Press staff gets together weekly to talk not only about what is currently being accomplished, but to dream and set goals for what we would like to see done. Because we are a small press, we are all involved in the process of bringing those dreams to reality. I really like that aspect of my job. Though I spend much of my time working with the financial aspects of the press—depositing money, paying bills, and producing weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual reports—I am also involved in actually putting our books into your hands: packing them carefully, dropping in a bookmark or two, adding our free sampler of some of the books we’ve published recently, and including a catalog for you to browse. I imagine what I would like to see if I were opening the package. Many of our customers might be like me; part of the reason I order from a company is the care they take with my order and the condition of my package when it arrives.
Answering the telephone and visiting with people is another enjoyable part of my job. It has always been exciting for me to share my love of reading with my own kids, and it makes me happy when a parent or grandparent calls in with that same desire to share both a love of reading and a love of South Dakota history with their family. Sometimes the calls come from people planning trips to South Dakota, and they want to read up on the area’s history before they leave home. Just this week, we heard from a gentleman who had visited all sixty-six of the state’s counties and was intrigued by what he saw. He wanted books that expounded on the history of the places he and his wife had just visited. Some of our inquiries and orders come from relatives or friends of a book’s author or subject, and I enjoy hearing the excitement in their voices.
I can’t conclude this blog without adding that when I think a product is good and useful, I enjoy selling it! The SDSHS Press creates books that are well written, beautifully produced, and of interest to a wide range of readers. When I sell our books, I feel like I’ve done the buyer a good service. This is just one more thing I like about my job. What do you like about yours?
Come celebrate L. Frank Baum’s 157th birthday with us on Wednesday, May 15, 2013, at the Cultural Heritage Center. The festivities will begin at 7:00 p.m. at the center, located at 900 Governors Drive in Pierre.
Author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Baum is one of the world’s most popular children’s writers. From 1888 until 1891, he lived in Aberdeen where he operated Baum’s Bazaar, a variety store, and took an active part in community affairs. As editor of the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer, Baum offered controversial opinions on various topics.
Nancy Tystad Koupal, an expert on Baum, will present a program that includes a documentary film produced for the Smithsonian Institution featuring Koupal and other Baum historians.
For further information on Baum, the ebook short, “The Politics of Oz” by Nancy Tystad Koupal, can be ordered through the South Dakota State Historical Society Press website (sdshspress.com) for $.99.
L. Frank Baum historian Nancy Tystad Koupal delves into the true meaning of Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, refuting old ideas of Populist allegory, while establishing a new paradigm for considering this most famous piece of American children’s literature.
This ebook short sets the tone for further discussion of the meaning of Baum’s work, as well, providing new insight and historical background on both the author and the state of South Dakota.
We’ve had a long winter here in South Dakota! With all the late snowfall, I can’t yet think about Spring Cleaning . . . but the snow puts me in the mood for some great Spring Reading. I’ve noticed during my order fulfillment duties here at the South Dakota State Historical Society Press that others are in the mood for some spring reading also. I’ve decided to put our books into a few categories and let you know the most popular for the month of April.
Our most popular titles for a good spring read seem to be our memoirs and biographies; Laura Ingalls Wilder (both the print book and the ebook) were popular in April, but you were also interested in reading great books about Black Hills history. Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane was in high demand, as were the new paperback releases of Ho! For the Black Hills and Cowboy Life. Come into the Water is also attracting many readers with its riveting account of the Rapid City Flood of 1972.
This month also brought sales of our books about travel in South Dakota and the development of Black Hills tourism. A Marvelous Hundred Square Miles was interesting to you, as was Infinite West, rightfully called a “thoughtful, tender, and funny guide . . . an arresting journey at the center of a nation” by Tim Dee, chief producer of BBC Radio. I find it fun and interesting to read about an area’s history and local flavor before I visit, and I wonder if that is why these titles were so popular with you this month.
With school coming to a close for the summer and the opportunity to take time to read aloud with those we love, many of us are wanting to gift our kids and grandkids with fun and educational South Dakota reads. Our new children’s titles: Greet the Dawn and The Mystery of the Pheasants were popular this spring. I was also excited to see that of our classic Prairie Tales sold well this month, as did Tatanka and Walking Along – all great books for reading aloud.
As most South Dakotans are, I am more than ready for the winter to be behind me. However, with all these great books to read, I might just keep on right through the summer!
Coming up with images to illustrate our books or journal articles can pose something of a dilemma at times. Take, for instance, the latest issue of South Dakota History. For starters, it was a bit unusual in that the entire issue consisted of one long piece, a previously unpublished narrative by Colonel Richard Irving Dodge detailing a scouting expedition sent out from Fort Fred Steele in Wyoming Territory in 1868. Dodge had been charged with locating a supply of wood for constructing buildings at the post, created to protect workers on the Union Pacific railroad as the line advanced westward. His scout took place over a fairly nondescript expanse of land, and he notes countless creeks, mountains, draws, dead-end canyons, and the problems he and his men encountered in navigating the little-known territory. Unfortunately, he took no camera along on his journey to document the scenery or wildlife he describes or to give us images of the men who accompanied him. There was the colorful post sutler Beall, a tenderfoot who begged to be included and then neglected to bring along even the most basic supplies, such as a coat. Then there were the conniving soldiers who hoarded the expedition’s bacon so that they could abscond with it when they went AWOL shortly before the group was to return to post. Finally, there was Dodge’s faithful orderly, Private Freilinger, who overheard the malcontents talking about the plot and fearfully informed his superior.
Dodge painted great word pictures, but in order to create a visually pleasing layout, we always look for interesting images to draw in those who might just be skimming the issue, as well as to break up long passages of monotonous-looking type. The Denver Public Library, Library of Congress, and other sources supplied good historical photographs of the military men and posts described by the editor of the narrative, Wayne R. Kime, in his introduction, but illustrating Dodge’s work itself was more challenging. In this case, we were lucky to have the resources of the South Dakota State Historical Society’s research library. Thanks to our predecessors who began a hundred or more years ago building a collection of books related to the history of the state and region, we have a good number of obscure volumes whose copyright is no longer active that we can scour for little-seen and often desperately needed illustrations. One such work is one of Dodge’s own books, Our Wild Indians (1882), whose frontispiece supplied the engraving used on the journal’s cover. Another is his The Plains of the Great West and Their Inhabitants (1877), which carried an image of the Laramie Plains. A search of our library records for items pertaining to the Union Pacific Railroad quickly brought up several railroad travel guides published not long after the transcontinental line was completed. Designed to promote western tourism through descriptions of the region’s majestic scenery and superb sporting opportunities, one of these books, published in 1886, yielded engravings of a few of the geographical places and some hunting scenes that meshed nicely with what Dodge described. Lucky finds—but they also made me wonder just what we should be collecting today that will come in handy for whoever is here fifty or one hundred years from now.
Earlier this week, state agencies were shut down for half a day after two nights of heavy snowfall, and the possibility of more looming ahead. Such a thing is almost unheard of in Pierre. In my youth, in the long-ago 1990s, I could count the number of snow days we received on the fingers of one hand, or so it seemed. The roads have to be pretty treacherous before we throw in the towel for even a few hours.
The weather is proverbially the thing you talk about when you have nothing else to talk about. But sometimes, and particularly in a state whose two most important industries are agriculture and tourism, the weather is much more than conversation filler. As we were not-so-gently reminded this week, sometimes the weather can really have a large-scale effect on daily life as people go about their business—or are prevented from going about it.
But how bad does the weather have to be before it becomes a historical event? This week, appropriately, Carol Olson has been checking quotations from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter, which took place in the winter of 1880–1881. It’s one thing when you’re annoyed because you’re running out of toilet paper and the landlord hasn’t arrived with his skid loader to clear the parking lot; it’s another when the trains can’t get through and you have to twist hay into knots to keep the fire going. For my part, I’ve been looking at meteorological data from Wilder’s time in Minnesota. Particularly chilling were the records for the winter of 1874–1875, when the average temperature in St. Paul in January and February was below zero degrees Fahrenheit. This is not average daily low, mind you, but absolute average temperature, sustained over two months. It kind of puts things in perspective.
Summer is surely coming; our frozen April showers are already beginning to melt. It won’t be long before we all are complaining about the Dakota summer heat. When you find yourself doing that, go online and read this article from South Dakota History. Then pour yourself a lemonade and enjoy the weather.
One of the unexpected pleasures of interviewing people for jobs is the questions they ask you—questions that get you to thinking about things you haven’t thought about. Some people want to know about the town—how big, what does it have to offer, and so forth. But sometimes they ask such questions in ways that put you on the spot. “What do you, personally, like and dislike about Pierre?” someone asked. Um—I had to puzzle about that the first time, and when I told my staff what I had replied, they told me that I hadn’t done a good job answering. So I’ve had to stop and weigh the pros and cons of the town I have lived in for more than thirty years, and in the process, I started to appreciate something that I hadn’t really given much thought to. Pierre is a river town—on a significant U.S. river, the Missouri River—and the huge dam and reservoir within seven miles of the town offer some of the most outstanding water-related activities in the region. I have always known this fact, but somehow I didn’t consider what it meant. Mark Twain appreciated rivers and river towns, and I venerated Mark Twain, but the fact that I lived in a river town—well, it just didn’t seem like the same thing, somehow.
Someone else asked me, “What do you like about your job?” This one I had thought about before, so I felt more confident in my reply. I like the fact that my job allows me to use all my talents and skills. It stretches me. And because the South Dakota State Historical Society Press is small, every employee is allowed to be a generalist; nobody gets pigeonholed into specialties, but at the same time, everyone can work to their greatest strengths. The job offers little opportunity for boredom and endless possibilities for reinventing yourself through your work.
Other interviewees’ questions related to the future directions of the Press, the office culture, and the day-to-day work. I have ideas about those topics, of course, but in many ways the new people coming in will help to reshape those things as we go forward. And I am looking forward to that.