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1 in 3000: Susan Heusser-Ladwig keeps Perham reading

Perham Public Library Director Susan Heusser-Ladwig poses for a portrait in the library. (Carter Jones/ FOCUS)

I am a city boy, born and raised in the suburbs of Minneapolis. My entire world changed when I took a job at the Perham Focus as the newspaper's main reporter in December. Now, I am here, in a town of just over 3,000 people, learning what small town living is all about. Perham started surprising me right from the start, and I quickly learned that I don't want to just report what's happening in Perham, I want to report on the people who make this town tick in the most inconspicuous of ways. Some people have a way of always attracting the spotlight, but my 'focus' will be on those who quietly go about their day making this community a better place to live. And since this is my new journey, too, and my "city" eyes are fresh, I wanted to document the adventure of discovering what this "Perham pride" thing is all about. Everybody in Perham has a story, unique in their own way...1 in 3,000.

Meeting Susan

Perham Public Library Director Susan Heusser-Ladwig didn't always aspire to be a librarian. Heusser-Ladwig went to Gustavus Adolphus for a history degree, but soon fell in love with working at the college library.

"I really liked it, I did all sorts of different things, in various areas. I just enjoyed all of it," she said.

After earning the history degree, Heusser-Ladwig didn't want to do the only thing she could do with a history degree — teach — so she found an alternative in a library science degree.

Now Heusser-Ladwig is the curator of the library's more than 34,000 books, videos and magazines.

Heusser-Ladwig says there's so many things she likes about working in the library, it's hard to think of her favorite part.

"If I had gotten a job in a larger library, it would have been segmented. You either do catalog and coding, or public services, which is like reference work, or you did children's services," she said. "In a library the size of ours, you do everything. I really like that. I'd be really bored if I were just sitting in the back room cataloging all the time."

Instead of toiling away in the backroom, Heusser-Ladwig does everything from chatting about new recommendations to regularly maintaining the library collection.

"I have a tendency to put that off as the last thing, but it's really important," she said. Heusser-Ladwig regularly combs through different sections to weed out outdated material and bring in newer material.

She says it's fascinating to see checkouts increase in an area after she's updated a certain section.

"People don't even realize that they're drawn to that area," she said.

When it comes to bringing new material into the library, Heusser-Ladwig said she and her staff read book reviews, best seller lists and professional journals to bring in good quality material.

The community itself also steers the direction of the library's collection.

"Perham has a pretty active gardening community, so we have a pretty good size gardening section," she said.

Cookbooks and military history are also popular locally, which makes Heusser-Ladwig keep up with those titles as well.

While it's obvious the library provides books to the community, Heusser-Ladwig said most people would be surprised to know the library has a camping kit and life jackets. The kit includes a tent, lantern and a few other things for people who want to camp over a weekend.

"It's pretty complete for a small camping set," she said.

Heusser-Ladwig encourages people that want to read more to start with their general interests.

She said a lot of people limit their scope because they think what they're reading isn't serious, and reading is supposed to be serious. When I asked what her favorite book of last year was, she said no one wants to know what she's reading, because she just reads trashy stuff.

"I keep telling people that come to the desk who think whatever they're reading isn't good enough, 'What difference does that make?' If you want to read a romance, read a romance, there's nothing to be ashamed of."