Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Be Nice - Email Etiquette In Libraries and the Workplace

If you are like me, you work in a small rural library and you depend on other librarians and library professionals for advice, communication, and work. I receive and send probably a few dozen emails every single day. Email and the Internet is my link to the larger outside world. But sometimes, email senders (who learned to type on typewriters) forget that their words have more weight and meaning when they are sent without physical, facial, or tone inflection cues. Emails stand alone in their communication and it is important that the tone of your emails be carefully scrutinized before pressing the 'Send' button. Email etiquette is important especially if you want to be taken seriously as a human being and professional.

Please and Thank You

When you were a child one of the first things your parents taught you was how to say 'please' and 'thank you'. Every email that you send out should also include these magic words. These are social niceties that smooth the way for a successful interaction with others.

Descriptive Subject

The subject of an email is important because if someone is scanning their email inbox they may better prioritize what to read first. Also, this helps you and the recipient organize your emails. Keep the subject brief but it should also reflect the main communication point of your email.

Salutation

Many people do not bother with a 'Dear So and So' in their emails but this kind of standard greeting can go a long way in how the body of your email is received. You wouldn't just pick up the phone and start talking to someone. You would make sure you have that person's attention by addressing them properly. The salutation serves the same purpose. If this is a work colleague with whom you work on a regular basis a first name is fine. If you are addressing an unknown person in a higher position you may want to address them as Ms. or Mr. (And yeah, it's the 21st century. No one uses Miss or Mrs. anymore in my world.) I like to use a Hello or Hi as a salutation. In more formal situations you may use Dear.

The Email Body

Be brief and to the point in your email, but also proceed courteously. Ideally, you are communicating with someone for a reason. You want something. You need something. You are trying to communicate or persuade. Do so being mindful of that person's time by writing succinctly, but warmly, about the purpose of your email. If your email is longer than a few paragraphs you might want to consider a phone call. If you are writing about a touchy or controversial topic, again, you may want to make this communication a phone call not an email.

Never demand. Never use the word 'never'. Use emoticons to express warmth if you are communicating with a colleague. Never write in ALL CAPS. On the Internet, this is the equivalent of yelling.

Never send an email when you are mad. Sit on it for 24 hours before you hit the 'Send' button. And what do you do about evil emails? Emails that are condescending, accusatory, impolite, or completely off-base? Don't respond. Ever. Unless it is your boss, in which case you should look for a better boss. Good managers and supervisors know how to communicate kindly and effectively to their employees and treat them well at all times. IF you have to response to an impolite, rude, or threatening email, keep it brief and to the point. Don't take the bait and start an email war of words. You have bigger and better things to do than sort out the rude and impolite.

When finishing an email go back and read it over. Practice reading it aloud in your head. This will help you catch typos and misspellings and will also help you identify the tone of your email. Is it friendly? Is it kind? Have you said what you wanted to say? Have you asked for an appropriate response? Consider your words very carefully.

The Carbon Copy (CC) and Blind Carbon Copy (BCC)

Think carefully before you CC and/or BCC someone on an email. If you are just trying to make communication efficient by communicating the same thing to many people, that is fine. If you constantly copy someone's boss on every email, you lose trust and humanity points. This is a form of bullying and strong-arming, especially if it is done by equals or someone in a service capacity. Sometimes, this is the workplace form of tattle-tailing. Use the BCC sparingly and to make a point. Don't make a habit of it.

The Closing

I have read many different writer's opinions on the closing of a professional email. Everyone has a different style. Acceptable closings include: Sincerely, Truly Yours, Best, Thank you, and Regards.

The Signature

Use the auto format available in every email interface to create a consistent and professional signature. Include your name, business, address, phone number, web address, and any other information that you want the public to know. Some people like to include a meaningful quote after their signature which I usually like, but don't include a long quote or more than one. Too much info.

Formatting

Don't spend a lot of time making your email or signature appear as orchid pink in a fancy or script font. Most people have an email interface that will make your email hard to read and you will also appear less professional. Sometimes, less is more.

Attachments

Limit your attachments in number and size. Remember that most email servers choke on anything over 10MB and some people may have older and slower machines. Other email servers automatically tag emails with attachments as spam. Be mindful of this and don't overload an email with more than one or two small attachments.

The Reply

If you have received an email that requires a response (and is nice) respond within 24 hours. Same day response is ideal but not always possible. If you are sending an email reply late, don't be afraid to apologize.

That is my quick tutorial on effective, kind, and polite email etiquette. You don't have to use any of these ideas, but remember that people will judge you by your email tone and be less likely to answer or work with you. Practice making your emails professional yet conversational. By using social graces you will have higher productivity and more success in your professional endeavors. As librarians, media specialists, and professionals our goal is to work together to get things done. As nonprofit entities we need to collaborate, not compete or feud. Want more guidance? Here is a great article by Laura Stack written for Microsoft.

Speaking of email, if you need help setting up an email account, learning how to organize your emails, or learning how to forward or attach photos, stop by the Pioneer Memorial Public Library in Harman, WV. I would be glad to help you!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Run For It - Pioneer Library Needs Funds, Too

As fundraising for Harman School is continuing in great earnest, I wanted to remind y'all that the Pioneer Memorial Public Library needs funds too. The Run For It on Saturday, September 27 in Davis, WV, is our biggest fundraiser of the year and we need runners, walkers, and library lovers (near and far) to help us out. Here is what you can do to help.

If you are a runner or walker, sign up for the Run For It as part of Team Pioneer. Join us as part of Team Pioneer in Davis on September 27. If you place in your age category, you win cash for the library. The Run For It is a 2k walk or a 5k run, you decide which event works for you. Here is the sign-up form. We get half of every $10 registration fee returned to the Library. The larger our team, the more prizes we become eligible to receive.

Also, you don't have to be present or even in West Virginia to help us out. If you would like to help the Pioneer Memorial Public Library continue to offer excellent service to the Randolph County community please take a moment to send a check to:

TCF-RFI
PO Box 491
Parsons, WV 26287

Please make sure you indicate "Team Pioneer" in the memo section of your check. Part of the awesomeness of the Run For It is that teams also compete for most money raised. Every dollar you contribute comes back to the Pioneer Library from the Run For It event.

So what else is at the Run For It? Well, this amazing event is part of the Leaf Peepers Festival in Davis, WV. This event is held to celebrate the peak of fall foliage in the hills of West Virginia. If you drive in through Canaan Valley you will be treated to the most wonderful, colorful forest cathedral. The festival also includes craft vendors, a large book sale put on by Mountaintop Library, a beer garden, live music, and a chicken roast. (This is co-sponsored by the Pioneer Library and the Tucker County Rotary Club. Come on by and get The Best Chicken ever.)

I will also say that the Run For It event is part competition and part spectacle. Last year, there was a walking string band that played music for the entire 2k race. Some teams don elaborate costumes that bring attention to their cause or nonprofit. If you like people watching, the Run For It event cannot be beat.

Why donate to the Pioneer Memorial Public Library?

  • We are a non-profit organization that employees two part-time librarians.

  • We have over 10,000 books, audiobooks, and DVDs available for checkout.

  • We serve as both school library to Harman School and as a public library.

  • We provide a story time program for Harman School children from pre-K to 3rd grade on a weekly basis during the school year.

  • We provide a small rotating collection of books for the Harman Senior Center.

  • We have a twice-a-year job fair for Huttonsville Correctional Center.

  • We have a weekly baby & toddler story time program all year round. (Thursday, 10:30am)

  • We have free wifi and five public Internet computers.

  • Last year we checked out over 2,100 books, audiobooks, and DVDs!

  • Last year we had over 4,300 library visits!

  • We have over 138,000 items available for checkout through WV READS, our e-book consortium.

  • We help people write resumes and find jobs.

  • We help people apply for Medicare, Medicaid, and Disability.

We do a lot with a little but we still need your help! Consider making a donation to the Pioneer Memorial Public Library. Consider signing up for the Run For It as part of Team Pioneer. Our mission is to engage, empower, and educate the good people of our community. How may we help you? Stop by the Pioneer Library to write a check or go online to the Run For It site and register as part of Team Pioneer.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Illegitimate Publishers -- Let the Buyer Beware

Libraries can be complex places of work. Large libraries have many departments that handle collection development from acquisition, to check-in, to accounting, to cataloging, and onto the shelf. Sometimes this means that a book is ordered by one person, checked in by someone else, cataloged by another, and shelved by someone else entirely. Another person or department in the library then pays for the book. Perhaps because of this labyrinth-like journey through a larger library it is easier for illegitimate publishers to peddle their shoddy wares.

Assessing Publishers and Writers

So what qualities make up an illegitimate publisher? Let's start with a prime example of illegitimate publisher: North American Book Distributors LLC sells, "Encyclopedia of West Virginia", by Nancy Capace, Somerset Publishers, 1999. Here is a sentence about abolitionist John Brown, "John Brown at Harper’s Ferry, self-conscripted to an act of madness or of glory, focused the thought of his time upon the problem of slavery." For a whopping $95 you can buy this poorly-written, hardbound book that has zero good reviews available online. If I look at Amazon, I can see that Ms. Capace has written all of the 50 books that are said to be the "definitive history" of their respective state. Really? How can one scholar create the definitive history book for each state? Historians I know might spend a lifetime studying the history of their home state, or a few states, but the whole country? Really? I can see that Ms. Capace bills herself as a writer/editor on LinkedIn but I do not see a proud resume, credentials, or a list of degrees. My theory is that Ms. Capace is a mediocre writer who has been paid to put ink on paper to sell pricey reference books to unwitting librarians and media specialists. And North American Book Distributors is just as complicit in the con game as Somerset Publishing. Perhaps they are even the same entity?

So who is Somerset Publishers? I can see from a Better Business Bureau (BBB) site that they are located in St. Clair Shores, Michigan, the same state as Nancy Capace. Somerset is not registered with the BBB. I can find no reviews of Somerset Publishers, they have no website, and no Internet presence other than perfunctory business listings. Who is North American Book Distributors? Here is a quote from the generic descriptions on their "About Us" page: "Since 1989 North American Book Distributors, LLC has been the leading distributor of reference publications specializing in state history. The history of individual states is being taught in schools and is becoming a focal point of the curriculum at various levels of education. Librarians and Media Specialists are looking for dedicated reference titles on the people, places and history of their particular state. Questions regarding state history information are some of the most frequently asked questions received by reference librarians." That's it. No names, no profiles, no photographs of people. Somerset Publishers could very well be a small printing press in Michigan that gets by selling mediocre books with scholarly-sounding titles. Reference works can be pricey, so Somerset gets to charge even more for their poorly researched and written books. Somerset is merely a book mill and nothing else.

What is an Illegitimate Publisher?

Why is Somerset Publishers an illegitimate publisher? Because they lack credibility and they produce a poorly written and researched product pawned off as the "definitive history". Let me tell you about the "West Virginia Encyclopedia", edited by Ken Sullivan in 2006 and published by the West Virginia Humanities Council. This is an excellent reference work for any library or media center. The articles are written by different scholars and historians from all over the state who specialize in one region or aspect of wild, wonderful West Virginia. The "West Virginia Encyclopedia" is a great model for how to know that a reference work has legitimate value and true scholarship. The publication utilizes many legitimate and experienced scholars who have spent years accumulating knowledge. These scholars are usually engaged in ongoing research and updating their field of knowledge by staying current on emerging information and interpretation. Many of these scholars are college professors and chairs who teach or specialize in a history field. The West Virginia Encyclopedia gets even better because you can access the whole document online, anytime here This is what a legitimate reference source looks like.

Definitive History of West Virginia

I love West Virginia history and it gets my goat that a publisher would try to tell me what the definitive title is on the history of the Mountain State. In my opinion, the definitive history is "West Virginia: A History" by John A. Williams and published by the West Virginia University Press. If you can only read one history book about West Virginia, this is a well-written and well-researched masterpiece that is still in print. And, Dr. Williams got his PhD from Yale. Legit.

Is This Illegal?

What Somerset and other illegitimate publishers and distributors do is not illegal. They have books with titles that sound like staple reference works and they sell them to librarians and media specialists who don't know any better. So by the time the book trickles through the levels of librarians no one has really had a good look at it. Sadly, I can see Somerset published books in the collections of major libraries and universities. Do they not have serious collection development departments that make wise and informed decisions about acquiring and cataloging new reference works? This is not illegal but it is certainly unethical.

So is Somerset Publishers all bad? Not necessarily. They do sell a complete WPA slave narratives archive in 19 volumes that sells for $1,995. Fine. But why pay almost $2k for something you can access for free via Project Gutenberg? The bottom line is this: as library professionals it is our duty to connect our patrons with the best information and to spend library funds wisely. Reference books especially should have lasting value. Just as North American Book Distributors says on the bogus site, "Questions regarding state history information are some of the most frequently asked questions received by reference librarians." This is the gap this scam fills. Be wary and be vigilant that these poor quality reference books end up on your valuable library shelf space. Patrons, scholars, students, and librarians deserve only the very best.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Future of Harman School

Many residents and patrons of Randolph County, WV have come into the Pioneer Library and are wondering about the future of next-door Harman School. During the week of July 4th, two tons of ceiling collapsed in the school making the entire building unsafe for population. Rumor has it that the plaster ceilings that are throughout much of the school were improperly installed with short nails. Gravity is now bringing those ceilings down. The good part is that this happened during summer break and no one was hurt. But imagine if this had happened with a full classroom. (*shudder*)

Harman School has approximately 170 students and is one of the few pre-K-12th grade schools left in the country. At one time, Randolph County had dozens of smaller, one- and two-room schoolhouses. Consolidation has lead to less schools which allegedly decreases cost and improves educational consistency and quality. Because Harman School is isolated on Route 33 in the Dry Fork Valley, 23 miles east of Elkins, the school has remained open even with a dwindling population. But what is the future of Harman School?

Local Residents Love Harman School

Local residents are passionate about keeping Harman School open. At the first meeting to discuss the physical facility of the school, local folks brought $55,000 to show their commitment and enthusiasm for contributing to the renovation and repair of the school. Many of these parents graduated from Harman School and their loyalty and love for this institution runs deep and true. Harman is proud of Harman School, their red and white colors, and the black panther mascot that serves as the symbol of this mountain community.

The Randolph County school year started yesterday, Thursday, August 14, 2014, and all of the kids who currently attend Harman School are being bused to various schools in Randolph County. Some parents have chosen to transfer their school-aged children to schools in Tucker County while others have chosen to home school. There have been some snags. Some children who are bused to Elkins have to get up very early to catch the bus into Elkins. The superintendent of the Randolph County Board of Education had to ask for a special exception for some of the kids to be on buses longer than the rules allow. So the bottom line is that some Harman schoolchildren are spending an hour or more one-way on a school bus. While the bus drivers work out the snags in the new schedule they might want to keep in mind that for kids who miss the bus it is hard for parents to drive 26 miles to deliver their child to school.

How Long Will Repairs Take?

At a recent meeting in Harman with Randolph County BOE Superintendent Terry George he said that his hope is that the pre-K through 5th grade schoolchildren will be back at the Harman School in four-six weeks. For the older kids it might not be until Christmas time that they are able to return. I can report that the repairs to Harman School have not yet begun. There is a bid process that will take time, though it is hoped that everyone is doing everything possible to expedite this process.

A recent fundraiser in Harman raised an additional $10,000. Local state representatives Denise Campbell and Bill Hartman are working hard to bring money to Harman School. Ms. Campbell recently announced another $60,000 from the state. The Randolph County School Board voted to shift another $60,000 in levy funds to the work in Harman School. The BOE has estimated that the temporary repairs will cost around $250,000, and so far (publicly) I can count only around $185,000 raised.

What About the Furnace?

There is another large issue with Harman School that I have not heard publicly addressed and that is the aged and antiquated furnace at the school. The Randolph County Board has always said that if the furnace dies at Harman School the entire school will close with no hope of re-opening due to a lack of funds. What is the estimated cost of repairing Harman School so that it might last for future generations? What if $250,000 is pumped into the school to make it safe but then this winter the furnace dies? I have not heard anyone address the long-term health of Harman School.

So what is the future of Harman School? I have sent some of my questions to local officials and will report back when I hear an answer. In the meantime, let me say that the closure of Harman School has shaken this community to its very core. At the library, we miss the kids. We have had a regular and weekly story time program for the pre-K-3rd grade kids for many years. At lunchtime, middle-schoolers and high-schoolers run over to eat lunch and use the computers. Let me just say...we miss you guys. While The Pioneer Memorial Public Library is a public library, we are also on school grounds and consider the Harman School children a top priority. We miss the young ones who are excited to check out books. We miss the middle school boys who like to come in and tease each other (mostly) good-naturedly. We miss the high school students who come in to check out the latest Young Adult fiction. We look forward to the return of the children to Harman School and the Pioneer Memorial Public Library.

To date, this is the most comprehensive article on the state of Harman School and the school children. Many thanks to Harman School Principal Tammy Daniels who is doing a great job in the face of dealing with this difficult situation. Many thanks to the Harman School teachers who had to pack up their classrooms and move them elsewhere. Many thanks to the Harman School kids and parents who have stepped up to try to save their school.

And let me add that the Pioneer Memorial Public Library remains open. Our funding is not dependent on the Randolph County Board of Education and we are a nonprofit entity. So even during the closure of Harman School, we remain open to serve the community. Stop by today and check out our collection of over 10,000 books, audiobooks, and DVDs.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

What is the Baltimore Book Thing?

The first time I heard about The Book Thing was from my mom who likes to cut out articles from The Baltimore Sun and send them to me. As soon as I read about The Book Thing in Baltimore, Maryland, I knew I had to go.

First the Bad Stuff

There are many things that may deter someone from visiting The Baltimore Book Thing. The building is located on Vineyard Lane just off 33rd Street in Waverly. It's a little hard to find. A recent visit was made when temperatures outside were in the mid-80s and I was made acutely aware of the fact that the Baltimore Book Thing has no air conditioning. If you go on a hot day you will smell yourself and everyone around you. But still, it is worthwhile. The Baltimore Book Thing is only open on Saturday and Sunday from 9am-6pm. Parking is limited.

All those deterrents aside, if you are a book junkie, you need to visit The Baltimore Book Thing. According to their website, The Baltimore Book Thing is the baby of a former bartender named Russell Wattenberg. The organization has been around Charm City since 1999 but moved to their current location sometime after 2005.

What's So Great About the Book Thing?

Free books. That's it, plain and simple. In the FAQ on The Book Thing website one of the questions and responses reads:

Is there a limit to how many books I can take?

You can only take 150,000 per day, per person. And they really mean it. I have filled up my car and my mom's car several times over with books to bring back to the Pioneer Memorial Public Library. The price means I can afford to be greedy.

The people who run The Book Thing are amazing at organizing their books. They are in subject sections just like a bookstore. They also do a great job of weeding out books that are in bad condition. I have never brought home a damaged book.

The Baltimore Book Thing gets books from all over the country. I took a class in the spring semester via the University of Tennessee Knoxville and one of my classmates works at a library in Tennessee where they ship all their unwanted books to The Baltimore Book Thing. Go Volunteers!

Multiple Copies of Book

Do you need a dozen of the same book for a book club? A recent visit revealed a box full of brand new copies of "To Kill a Mocking Bird" by Harper Lee. At the same time, I found a bunch of wonderful biographies that I had on my library's wish list. Sometimes, I feel like the book gods and goddesses are blessing me with the titles I seek. Book serendipity.

Find New Topics of Interest

Free books means that you can explore topics that maybe you were hesitant to dig into. I have recently started reading some biographies and true crime books (guilty pleasure) and was able to grab a box full at The Book Thing for free. My son has been hoarding books from The Book Thing by Stephen King and Isaac Asimov. When I am done with these books I can donate them to my library or the local Goodwill

Beware of Bullies

There is one more thing I need to tell you about The Baltimore Book Thing. It is about the time I visited last November. I was sitting on the rug underneath the children's book boxes digging through books just like every other person. (The rug, by the way, smells like cat pee. But still, it's worth it.) I glanced up at the shelf next to the boxes and saw two titles that were the same. The compulsive book sorter in me was forced to place the two titles together, you know, helpful like. Suddenly, there was a large, male presence over my shoulder. "M'am, please don't move the books." Really. I looked up and over my shoulder at the man standing over me with a big gut and a beard. I wanted to lay into him and let him know my bookie credentials. Doesn't this guy know I am practically the book queen of Randolph County, West Virginia? I took a deep breath. 'Free book, free books,' I said in my head a couple of times. I sucked it up and replied, "Oh. OK. I am sorry." Big beardy walked off, seemingly placated. It was a random chastisement that I will gladly pay in exchange for the number of free boxes of books that I have lugged back to Appalachia.

Free Boxes

And did I mention that The Book Thing has free boxes? Yeah, they do. As many as you need.

During the summertime, The Waverly Farmer's Market is just around the corner and super awesome. Normals, a collectively-owned and super-cool bookstore is also around the corner. Thank you, Book Thing of Maryland, for the hours of browsing, great conversations, fun people watching, and treasures scored. Free books, people. Book booty awaits you at the Baltimore Book Thing.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Level the Literacy Playing Field - Adopt a Library

OK, this is an idea that has been rolling around in my head for months.

First, back in February of this year I had the pleasure of attending and presenting at the Big Talks From Small Libraries, a free online conference sponsored by the Nebraska Library Commission and the Association for Rural and Small Libraries. One of the speakers was Rachel Reynolds Luster, a librarian in Missouri who was featured in a story on NPR in 2013. She said that she received thousands of cash and book donations from all over the country after that story aired on NPR. From this outpouring of love and cash, it reinforces, to me, that people LOVE libraries and only want to support them, especially in small, rural communities. But how can anyone support any library nationally?

Based on this story it came to my mind that it would be great if the American Library Association (or some other national library organization) hosted/sponsored/supported an Adopt-a-Library program nationally. This program would allow people from all over the world to pick and choose the state and/or library that they wanted to donate to. As library director in a small rural community, I am quite sure there are more people from West Virginia who live outside the state than inside it because of lack of job opportunities here. If there were a nationwide Adopt-a-Library program it would allow libraries in small regions with less tax base to level the literacy playing field. The Adopt-a-Library program could even be as simple as a site that has links to a wish list for every library on Amazon or the like.

Out of State Library Supporters

Also, I have an amazing library supporter in Wisconsin who sends me a few boxes of items every year. This library fan is from West Virginia but no longer lives here, but wanted to support literacy in her home state. So Barb W. (you know who you are, you amazing person, you) contacted the West Virginia Library Commission and asked them about a small "up and coming" library in WV who in turn recommended the Pioneer Library. (Thank you, WVLC!) Many people from West Virginia have to leave to find work. I'm willing to bet that this is the case with MANY small libraries around the United States.

I wrote my BIG IDEA to the ALA and received a kind response from Susan Brandehoff, the Director of Program Development and Partnerships who was encouraging. She also recommended getting in touch with the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies and I Love Libraries (an initiative of ALA). I also thought my idea might strike a chord with the Association for Rural and Small Libraries (ARSL). I have librarian friends all over the country. Some have multi-million dollar budgets, others (like my own) have budgets under $35,000 per year. Smaller libraries with smaller budgets cannot compete nor provide the same services as larger libraries in wealthier tax bases. How can we level the library playing field so that every library has the same access to money and materials? Money and materials are the two things that make libraries go.

Who Wants To Have Their Library Adopted?

So there it is. People are passionate about libraries. People want to support libraries not just in their own communities. How can literacy and libraries continue to grow and thrive in small, impoverished parts of the United States? I know the West Virginia Library Commission is always pessimistic, "Prepare for budget cuts." This year West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin cut an entire line item in the state budget for special library projects. Times are tough, people. Let's pool our resources nationally, let's be a big supportive library team.

If we can find a national library organization willing to take this on, this could be an amazing place for little libraries to post their Amazon Wish Lists (it doesn't have to be connected with Amazon) and have complete and total strangers from all over the country (& world) who support libraries, literacy and lifelong learning buy items or contribute cash for your library. This could kind of be like Kickstarter for libraries. Let's do this people. Who's in?

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Civil War in Dry Fork: The Historic Ride of Jane Snyder

There is a lot of history in Harman, West Virginia.

Indians migrated through here and hunted here. Early settlers came here after the American Revolution, some as Tories defeated by the Colonials. Many settlers were Scotch-Irish, German, or Dutch. And then came the American Civil War. As all good West Virginians know, we were the only state created out of war because the entire state of Virginia was literally split on the issue of slavery. In many local areas, sentiments were mixed as to whom supported the Federal North, or who supported the Confederate South. Harman favored the Federal (sometimes called Union) troops.

The Civil War Comes to Dry Fork

In 1862, the American Civil War was in full force. Confederate Colonel John D. Imboden was leading a slash and burn campaign through northwestern West Virginia stealing supplies and destroying the railroad. The strategy was to obliterate valuable infrastructure and to leave Federal supporters without supplies.

But the town of Harman in the Dry Fork Valley region of Randolph County, West Virginia, was staunchly Union. There was a team of Federal scouts in the region lead by Captain John Snyder who had a 19-year-old daughter named Mary Jane Snyder, who was mostly called Jane. Jane Snyder is a somewhat legendary figure even though we know she was a real person who lived in this region. The story goes that Jane heard that Imboden was going to capture Parson’s Mill and blow up a B&O train bridge in Rowlesburg. The Federals at Parson’s Mill included Jane’s father, Captain John Snyder. Since Jane knew the few Federal scouts at Parson’s Mill would be horribly outnumbered she rode horseback through some rough country to reach the Mill before Imboden. Most accounts acknowledge that Jane arrived in Parson’s before the Confederates and that she probably saved the Federal troops including her father, and perhaps stopped the railroad bridge from being destroyed.

Consider Don Teter’s version of Jane Snyder’s story from his book “Goin’ Up Gandy:”

“Aug. 14, 1862, Confederate Colonel (later General) John D. Imboden left his camp at Franklin with about three hundred mounted men and, guided by Zeke Harper, rode across the mountains toward Beverly. Imboden hoped to surprise the Federals by riding through Saint George to attack and destroy the B&O Railroad bridge at Rowlesburg, so he avoided the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike across the mountains. They rode along game trails and followed ridges and streams until they reached the Glady Fork, about twelve miles northeast of Beverly, when they turned northward down Glady Fork, toward the Dry Fork.

Meanwhile, word of their presence in the woods had reached Horsecamp Run, and John Snyder’s 19 year old daughter Jane (1843-1908) had ridden down the Dry Fork to warn her father, who had gone to Saint George. She passed the mouth of Glady Fork before Imboden and his men got there, and warned the small group of Federals at Parsons’ Mill in time for them to escape.”

So while some might think that Jane Snyder’s ride was Civil War folklore or fairytale, her remarkable journey was chronicled in the Wheeling Intelligencer from August 22, 1862, “It was Capt. Snider’s daughter who came from Pendleton to bring the news of the advance of the rebels and their strength. She is a brave girl and deserves to be crowned a heroine.”

On August 26, 1862, an alleged eye witness Charles Hooten had his letter published in the Wheeling Intelligencer that concluded, “But for this heroic young lady, Miss Snyder, whose name and heroic deed should be remembered and rewarded, Capt. Hall and his men would, in all probability, have been destroyed."

An Anonymous Poem

A more romanticized version of Jane Snyder’s ride is found in Carrie Harman Roy’s “Captain Snyder and His Twelve of West Virginia (1977)” there is a long account of Jane Snyder’s ride in poem form that includes the following:


“The Midnight Ride of Jane Snyder, Anonymous

Thus they rode in that night which so many remember,
That terrible night of the stormy November,
When the winds through the pines on the mountains were roaring
And the torrents re-echoed with splashing and pouring
But the rebels while flanking the Federal pickets
Were flanked by a woman who rode through the thickets,
O'er by-paths and no paths, o'er mountains that rose
To the clouds, and their summits were spattered with snows;
And she out-rode, the Rebels and came in ahead.
They were balked, they were beat; for the Yankees had fled.
She had warned them in time, but no moment to spare;”

While I hate to pick at poems, as a historian I have to mention that Jane’s ride was in August (not November, but what rhymes with August?), and Ms. Snyder’s ride was in the early morning hours, not in the night.

So what really happened in August of 1862? By several accounts, Jane Snyder’s solo journey across 30-40 miles may have saved the lives and freedom of some Federal troops. Certainly the act of this one brave teen did not change the tide of the Civil War but it did send a clear message to the Confederates: this is not your territory and you are not wanted here. It also says much about the brave teen, Jane Snyder, who was willing and able to take a long journey by herself on horseback for the sake of her father and the Federal cause that he defended.

Not to deflate the history of Jane Snyder, but Imboden eventually returned in November of the same year and easily captured about 30 Federal troops at Parson’s Mill in West Virginia. This time, Imboden’s plan to blow up the railroad bridge at Rowlesburg was foiled when he learned that Federal troops were on their way.

Women have always played a powerful role in wars but much of that history may have been overlooked by the men who wrote the history books. Jane Snyder stands as a reminder of the power of women, family, and teenagers during wartime.

[Side note: It is interesting to note the discrepancies on Mary Jane Snyder Bennett's tombstone from Idaho which has an incorrect birth date and year. Some sources list her birth date as May 7 and her birth year as 1843. The tombstone seems to reflect May 17 as her birth date and 1849 as her birth year. I found Mary Jane Snyder in the 1860 census (parents John & Lucinda) and her birth year is estimated as 1843.]

Sources listed below are available for study at the Pioneer Memorial Public Library in Harman, West Virginia. Also, this is a great site that includes a picture of Jane Snyder in her later years.

Roy, C. H. (1977). Captain Snyder and his twelve of West Virginia. New York, NY: Carlton Press.

Teter, D. (1977). Goin'up Gandy: A history of the Dry Fork region of Randolph and Tucker counties, West Virginia. Parsons, W. Va.: McClain Print.