Jackson Hole News & Guide

Foxtail Makes Libraries Personal

Smirl weds collections with a sense of design, art and cataloging.

A version of this article by Jennifer Dorsey, appeared in the Business Section of the Jackson Hole News & Guide on February 22, 2017.


There was a point when Cara Rank found the jumble of books on her and her husband Spencer’s shelves so jarring that she turned them around so only the white pages faced out.

The visual cacophony of covers and dust jackets was too much for her after long days dealing with designs and inks for her businesses Dishing magazine and XOWYO Paper and Press.

“I couldn’t stand looking at them,” Rank said. “There was so much color.”

Enter Christy Smirl, owner of Foxtail Books. She helped sort, cull and rearrange the couple’s books. With fewer titles and a more artful placement there’s even some color back on the shelves, and that’s OK with Rank.

“It’s more streamlined, less cluttered,” she said.

Smirl is what you might call a personal library collections manager, offering a range of services from helping a client organize a few shelves to sourcing and installing 5,000 titles in a home that has a dedicated space for a library.

It’s a personalized version of what she did as collections development manager at Teton County Library.

There she worked on a selection of 100,000 titles to suit a population of 23,000 residents plus tourists. Now, instead of trying to do “everything and anything,” she said, she’s matching books to individuals.


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One reason she named her business “Foxtail Books” was because the way foxtail plant seeds spread by catching onto people’s pants reminded her of the “catching nature” of ideas.

“My favorite part of the job at the public library was the puzzle of connecting people with books — talking to people about what they’re passionate about, what they’re researching and what they want to know more about,” she said. “This is an extension of that.”

Some clients are driven by content. One might want a collection of Pulitzer Prize winners or first editions of modern American fiction. For others the goals might be memoirs by women in the West or books on hunting, modern art or the history of dance. The possibilities are endless.

In her initial consultations Smirl finds out not only what topics people are interested in but whether they want paperback or hardback, leather-bound or fabric-covered, vintage or brand-new. With her industry connections she knows where to find the books people want, including rare and antique tomes.

Smirl knows that books mean many things to people, and it’s not just the words.

A hard-core fan of “The Hobbit,” for example, might want a beautifully bound and illustrated edition on his shelf. But another person who loves the Tolkien classic might prefer to keep the beat-up paperback that reminds her of a great backpacking trip.

“We are attached to a story or subject,” Smirl said. “We also are attached to what books have been in our lives and how they feel as physical objects and how they smell.

“How they look on the shelf says something about us,” she said. “It makes us feel smart or cultured and shows that we have diverse interests.”

Sometimes Smirl works with an interior designer to fill a room or to create capsule collections around the home. In those cases it’s about how the books look on a shelf, what they say about the homeowner and how they add to the feeling the designer is trying to express.

“They add color to the room,” Smirl said. “They add another dimension of character, the same way a piece of art or a sculpture or an antique does.”

The design aspect gives her a creative angle on books that she enjoys.

“I’ve always loved design and interiors, and exploring how the objects in a space can add depth or emotion or texture,” she said. “I think books are a really good way to do that.”

When working with an existing collection Smirl talks her clients through the process of deciding which books to get rid of and how to organize the remaining ones.

In the Ranks’ case that meant tossing a bunch of outdated travel books, including surf guides whose pages were stuck together with surfboard wax.

Smirl took dust jackets off some of their hardcovers, revealing attractive covers in solid colors with foil lettering. She’s going to find a “pretty version” of Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” to replace Cara Rank’s tattered copy from college.

The books are stacked more nicely, and fewer books mean room on the shelves for Rank’s childhood rock collection, a box her husband has had since he was a boy, and some pottery.

There’s value in having an outsider lend a hand with this kind of job, Rank said.

“They see what you can’t.”

Foxtail Books’ services include cataloging, estate and appraisal services, moving and more. For information visit FoxtailBooks.com.

Click here for the full article from the News & Guide.

Christy Shannon Smirl