Little Library on the Prairie
Kevin Carvell is a book collector.
Throughout his life he was a political reporter at the Fargo Forum, taught journalism for a bit, was a stringer for the Washington Post and worked for Senator Dorgan. But, once he retired he began looking for something to fill his time.
One day Kevin looked at his bookshelf and noticed he had about twenty to twenty-five North Dakota books. And since he’s loved ND history since he was in the seventh grade he decided that this was it. He would collect all books written by North Dakotans and all books about North Dakota. He soon realized that this was an impossible feat, especially if books counted all the high school and college yearbooks. But, he hasn’t stopped trying yet.
He now lives in Mott in the house he grew up in. His book collection grew, but he was having to put most of them in boxes in his basement because he just didn’t have room. So he built an addition to the house. A library. After Kevin built the library addition to his house he also acquired a wooden rolling library ladder from Concordia College’s library. It leans against a tall shelf just waiting until Kevin installs a rail on which it will glide the expanse of the library.
Kevin’s library begins just feet inside his front door. On a shelf in his living room sits books about many North Dakotans, filed by who the book is about. One of these books is about Peggy Lee.
“My dad used to double date with Peggy Lee in college,” quipped Kevin.
A long hallway extends from the living room to the added library filled floor to ceiling with books on both sides. These shelves contain poetry and fiction books by North Dakota authors.
One such book is written by Bob Cannon, former postmaster in Mott. He wrote many westerns and weaved North Dakota places and people into his books.
Another author, Tom Robbins, doesn’t necessarily talk specifically about ND in his book Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, but in the book it talks about the Rubber Rose Ranch which is a ranch inhabited by lesbians. The book refers to the ranch being built at the western end of the Badlands at the base of a butte where the roads turn red from the scoria. And the nearby town is Mottberg. Could it be referring to Mott? Well, movie producers actually came to Mott to see if it would be a good place to make a movie about the book, but they ended up making it near Vancouver in Canada.
A book written by Jon Hassler describes a character who attended grade school in Mott, high school in Bismarck, and college at UMary. The book reads, “My dissertation compared the test scores of kids nationwide to the test scores of the kids in Mott, ND, and I tried to figure out why the Mott kids always came out way ahead.” Kevin was curious why Hassler would include such detail about North Dakota and discovered that Hassler’s secretary was from Mott. It was his tribute to her. Kevin tracked down the secretary to ask her about it and she had no idea he had written that.
On one shelf in the back of Kevin’s library sits a book called Not All Heroes. It is written by former Bismarck State College’s president Larry Skogen’s brother Gary Skogen. It is “an unapologetic memoir of the Vietnam War 1971-1972.”
Kevin has a collection of college annuals, plays and dramas by North Dakota playwrights, anthropology, early history of ND indigenous tribes, indigenous/white conflict history, the explorations of Lewis and Clark, Teddy Roosevelt’s experiences in ND, local histories and church histories, a shelf full of law books containing decisions made by the ND Supreme Court, ND true crime, and ND artwork and books by ND artists. Over 13,000 books in all and the collection is growing daily.
He collects his books by going to library book sales, buying new books, and receiving gifts of books and family histories from people all over the state.
As for what will happen to all these books when Kevin is gone, he is unsure but wouldn’t mind donating the library to the NDSU library. Some people have offered to buy the whole collection. But, Kevin is not ready.
“Virtually every day I dip into this to resolve some question that has entered my mind about what’s going on and what’s the story behind that,” Kevin said.
Often Kevin will serve as the local historian. He receives calls asking for such things as finding a family member’s grave.
“I managed to find [the firefighter from St. Paul’s grandfather’s] grave and the family farm and he drove out from St. Paul to see it. His grandfather had died in the 1920’s in a car wreck.”
After finding the grave, the firefighter decided to come back and dig up the grandfather and bury him next to the grandmother in Bismarck. He asked Kevin if he would like to join him. When all was said and done the firefighter, out of gratitude for Kevin’s help, gave him his grandfather’s grave.
“I already had a grave,” laughed Kevin. “So, now I have two graves. I’m just not sure which half of me to bury in each one.”
On one shelf sits several biographies on professional ND athletes, one being about Roger Maris.
“He’s actually my uncle,” commented Kevin. “He married my dad’s sister.”
The library is a treasure trove of history and a showcase of talent sitting in the quiet town of Mott, ND. Kevin has given many tours and during the tour brings so many of the stories alive by sharing about his own life. If you would like to donate to Kevin’s collection or simply take a look around, look him up. He seems to always have a full pot of coffee. But, he can’t always find his coffee cup.