FULDA - It will be 20 years ago this August that Beth Cuperus came on board to work at Fulda Memorial Library.
Little did she expect that she would be appointed as the library’s director a short time later, and still be in that post today.
Cuperus, originally from Lead, S.D., grew up in the Black Hills before moving to southwest Minnesota for college.
“I went to Marshall (Southwest Minnesota State University) and they had the program I wanted - I majored in hospitality business,” she recalled. “That was the closest school for that program way back then.
“I met my husband (Kris) at college ... and his family farm is outside of town here.”
The couple settled down and started a family (the couple now has three grown children), and Cuperus didn’t work for a while initially. But after about 10 years, she decided to pursue employment.
“I started out here not as the director, and only ended up working for about four months until the director retired,” she said. “Then, I became the director. It was kind of shocking, but it worked out OK. I had lots of help from a lot of the other librarians in the area, because we’re all part of the same (Plum Creek) system.”
Cuperus ventures to guess that traffic at Fulda Memorial Library has remained steady over the last couple of years, though there have been multiple changes of along the way.
“We do pretty well now that we have the Minnesota Legacy money,” she said, noting statewide passage of the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment in 2008 that - in part - preserves arts and cultural heritage across Minnesota. “Since that went into place, we try to do quite a bit of programming.
“Libraries do a lot of things together,” Cuperus continued. “We get people from the Twin Cities or other places, and they’ll stay down here for week and maybe do 10 shows or so around the area. We’ll try to have them do two programs in one day, or three in two days, so we can all share the hotel costs and the mileage.”
Authors frequently visit Fulda Memorial Library as well as the other Plum Creek libraries, but programming isn’t just simply book-based.
“We’ll have music programs and all kinds of things,” Cuperus described. “The hot thing last year has been hands-on programs, like building things and creating crafts - people want to come in and learn how to make things. For example, we had knitting classes or how to make jewelry, or how to paint with acrylics - those kinds of things.”
And, as is typical for any community’s library, kids are frequent patrons, too. A visitor on a Wednesday afternoon, for example, would see a group from St. Paul’s Lutheran School, comprised of students in preschool through sixth grade, pass through the doors.
Each Monday after school, Cuperus added, children between the ages of kindergarten through 12 or 13 enjoy building time, and enjoy the library’s Legos and multiple board games while also having available snacks.
“Otherwise, during the school year, we don’t have a lot of afterschool programs,” Cuperus admitted. “We do a lot more in the summer than during the school year for kids, and we have more staff (Emily Heintz and Christine Salentiny) here to help during that time.”
A number of regular Fulda Memorial Library patrons head south for the winter, Cuperus added, but that doesn’t mean her building is void of activity.
“We also do winter reading programs - the whole Plum Creek system does them, but each library can kind of twist them how they want,” she said, “That program runs from January to the end of March and this year’s theme is ‘Reading is Snow Much Fun,’ and it’s for ages 16 and up. You have to read so many books in the three months to get a prize.
“We do have a very hard-core group that does the winter reading program, and many of the people here during the winter do it and look forward to it.”
Fulda Memorial Library originally opened in April 1970 and became a member of the Plum Creek Library System in 1975. The square footage of the original library was 1,606; the facility is currently 2,970 square feet.
“Over the course of 2001 and 2002 we used a grant from the state to make the facility handicap accessible, plus we received a lot of local funding as well,” Cuperus explained. “We also got new lights and new carpeting and had other remodeling done around that time, too.
“The smallest libraries, such as ours, we don’t have much space. We do try keep updating our title collection and moving things around.”
Fulda Memorial Library currently has a collection of 22,344 items. Cuperus guesses that number is close to what has it has been for the last several years.
“We do have way more movies then we used to have and more games than we used to have, but the total (item inventory) remains about the same,” she said. “There’s only so much room.”
Upon entering the library, patrons may turn left and walk into the fiction and young adult area; that’s also home to a sitting area that includes newspapers, magazines and audio books. A right turn, meanwhile, leads to children’s items, movies and board games, along with computers with internet access available for public use.
Cuperus doesn’t expect another expansion to the library anytime soon, as the previous effort took years of work from many in the community. Instead, she simply hopes use of the facility remains strong - slightly more than 10,000 people visited in 2017 - and offerings remain varied for folks of all ages. She expects small libraries such as Fulda’s to remain healthy, even as some people in larger communities question the need for bigger facilities.
“I think your rural libraries are going to be kind of years behind what everybody’s saying - we still get a lot of use here,” she said. “It’s an older population and we have a lot of people that don’t have a computer, don’t have smartphones, and wouldn’t able to read a book or watch a movie any other way.
“Libraries are changing. We have way more programming than we used to, we check out board games and have game nights and have more sitting areas for people to use wi-fi. It’s changed, but it hasn’t declined.
“In a town like Fulda, the library is really kind of a community center trying to provide a lot of things.”