A Librarian with Spirit(s)

December 27, 2018

Clockwise from top right: Pen Pictures, a book of channeled poetry by Robert Burns published in Lily Dale in 1900; the signature pink bookplate of Skidmore’s original library, the Cassadaga Lakes Freethought Association Library; memento mori hair bracelet found inside an 1882 channeled Spiritualist text titled Oahspe; Amanda Shepp examines The Sunflower, a Spiritualist journal published in Lily Dale, 1898–1909. (Photos: Brittany Ford)
Clockwise from top right: Pen Pictures, a book of channeled poetry by Robert Burns published in Lily Dale in 1900; the signature pink bookplate of Skidmore’s original library, the Cassadaga Lakes Freethought Association Library; memento mori hair bracelet found inside an 1882 channeled Spiritualist text titled Oahspe; Amanda Shepp examines The Sunflower, a Spiritualist journal published in Lily Dale, 1898–1909. Photos: Brittany Ford

Nestled along the tree-lined Upper Cassadaga Lake in western New York lies the Marion H. Skidmore Library, run by its sole librarian, Amanda “Mandi” Shepp. Operated by the Lily Dale Assembly, the library houses an extensive collection of periodicals and newspapers that provide valuable information for anyone researching the history of this Spiritualist community founded in 1879.

Shepp was hired in 2014 as the facility’s first professional librarian and has been busily cataloging its more than 10,000 books, rearranging them into 28 thematic collections and seeing that its rare newspapers and pamphlets are digitized.

“In addition to multiple collections that focus on aspects of Spiritualism, others cover the suffrage and freethought movements,” Shepp says. “Skidmore was a freethinker and a suffragette before she was a Spiritualist, and the early books in the collections reflect the profundity of her thinking.”

The library also houses some odd artifacts. Shepp says the “reading room contains a life-size spirit painting of Kaiser Wilhelm II created in Lily Dale in the 1890s during a séance by a pair of mediums known as the Campbell Brothers.”

Shepp found her current job through a news­paper ad. Before joining Skidmore Library, she was a “paranormal librarian” at the secular-humanist Center for Inquiry Libraries in Amherst, New York.

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