Tucked away in the mountains of Northwest Colorado lies one of the smallest public library buildings you may never see.
Only a plain wooden sign at the end of a lonely driveway indicates the library exists.
In the winter, neighbors in the desolate rural area can be seen riding their snowmobiles to the ranch where the library sits.
In the summer, bicyclists might ride over from neighboring Grand County to take a gander at the collection of history books.
Alert travelers along County Road 134 have been known to spot the library's wooden sign and take a closer look out of curiosity.
If they choose to stop, they see a little white building with a green tar-papered roof, no bigger than some people's living rooms. A farmhouse is nearby. Cars and trucks litter the yard along with old farm equipment.
On this day, the wind is the only sound one can hear besides the hum of flies, buzzing near something dead.
It's Monday, the only day the Toponas Public Library is open.
But "open" is relative.
It's not uncommon to have a local rancher knock on librarian Mary Jean Perry's farmhouse door on a Sunday afternoon.
"Most of 'em don't even knock, they just come up here," Perry said with a laugh.
Welcome to the public library in the old ranching community of Toponas, population 40.
"It's more of an honor-type library. This is a rural area where you do your own thing," Perry said about her neighbors who come and go from the library as their schedule sees fit.
But make no mistake, this is an official library, funded by the South Routt Library District.
And, your book is due back in two weeks.
Perry explained that back in 1978, the state handed out grants to rural communities to fund libraries.
For some unknown reason, Perry was contacted by someone in state government who offered the $2,000 grant. At that time, the Toponas community had pretty much shrunk to nothing from its heyday as America's lettuce and spinach capital.
Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, Perry asked her husband to take an old building off their 3,000 acre ranch and move it near the house.
"It was just an old bunkhouse for hired hands," Perry said.
With the help of Steamboat Springs Bud Werner Memorial Public Library, Perry turned the old shack into a library.
Starting off with 500 books, including encyclopedias, Perry went to work holding reading hours for the few children left in Toponas.
But this wasn't your average everyday reading hour.
"They had all kinds of projects," the silver-haired Perry reminisced.
"The kids would ride a horse and gather feathers. The children really had a ball."
Within two years, her husband and son added on another addition to the old bunkhouse. The library worked its way up to 2,000 books, 200 videos, as well as magazines and books on cassettes.
No computers for this library. Toponas still has the old card catalogs that you thumb through to find your book's call number.
"Every book is cataloged," Perry said.
The rural nature of the library lends itself to a unique clientele. Besides serving the scattered ranchers in far South Routt County, the small library has become an outpost for campers or seasonal forest service workers at isolated campgrounds like Lynx Pass.
The library is also the nearest place neighbors can come and make photocopies or check out videos.
While there is no room for computers, the little copier sits on an old scratched wooden chest.
In this day of sparse public funding, one might wonder why the board that governs the South Routt Library District would even waste their money on such a little library.
Why wouldn't they put the money ($2,250/year for supplies and utilities) into the much bigger towns of Yampa and Oak Creek, 12 miles and 22 miles down the road?
But it's the library officials themselves who are some of Toponas', and Perry's, biggest fans.
"I just feel like it provides a unique niche," said library district board member Liz Mauch.
"People enjoy her service very much."
But more important, Mauch and others said Perry is the premier historian for local history.
"She is a walking resource that a lot of libraries would love to have as far as local history," said Dina Murray, the project director for the South Routt Library District.
In fact, Perry's grandfather was Preston King who helped settle Toponas in 1884.
The mountain named after her grandfather can be seen from Perry's ranch, which has shrunk from 3,000 acres to 500 acres as the widow with the kind, time-creased face lives alone.
Sadly, the dedicated librarian who still gets up at 4:30 a.m. to do chores, doesn't expect anyone to take over her role when she quits. She suspects her collection to end up in the Yampa and Oak Creek libraries.
And since Perry is also the Yampa librarian, she admits there's some common sense to it.
But looking out from the little library porch at the surrounding mountains, she can't help but admire the serenity it offers.
"In the summer time I put out a little table and chairs and umbrella, so people can read or visit," Perry said.
"It's very peaceful," she smiled.
To reach Frances Hohl call 871-4208
or e-mail email@example.com