Mott's Kevin Carvell has over 13,000 North Dakota books in his personal collection

MOTT--Books in a variety of shapes, colors, ages and genres line the shelves of a home in Mott. Kevin Carvell owns more than 13,000 books displayed proudly in his home's library. Carvell dots from book to book explaining its significance to his c...

Press Photo by Sydney Mook Kevin Carvell stands in front of his large collection of North Dakota books on Thursday in Mott.

MOTT-Books in a variety of shapes, colors, ages and genres line the shelves of a home in Mott.

Kevin Carvell owns more than 13,000 books displayed proudly in his home's library. Carvell dots from book to book explaining its significance to his collection.

While Carvell loves all books, his collection focuses on books written by North Dakota authors, set in North Dakota or the occasional book that has a slight connection to the state.

"I'm very pleased with it," he said. "I'm attached to it. It's great fun when a question comes up you know I can almost answer any question about North Dakota without ever leaving the room."

One shelf in his library is dedicated to books detailing how to collect books, rare western books and other books to grow his passion - book collecting.


Carvell grew up in Mott and he moved to Fargo to attend North Dakota State University. While there he enlisted in the U.S. Army. He was a reporter and editor for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead from 1971 to 1980. In 1981, he took over the role of district director for Sen. Byron Dorgan until his retirement in 2004.

Carvell said his knowledge and books were incorporated into speeches given throughout the state by the senator.

Dorgan said he is also an avid historian and much of the conversations between the two included North Dakota history.

"I used a lot of material that we would talk about and see in speeches across the state," Dorgan said. "He's a really good thinker. He has a passion for it and loves history. When you start talking about what used to be Kevin is just a reservoir of knowledge and it comes from all of these books he's collected."

Carvell's love for North Dakota culture started in seventh grade. While attending school at St. Vincent's Catholic School in Mott, Carvell said he became transfixed with knowing more about his home state.

At that time, the nuns in the school taught in combined classrooms. So when he was in the seventh grade, Carvell had heard the nuns teaching "Know Your State" to the eighth grade class he said he was "completely enraptured."

He started collecting a small number of North Dakotan books but after he was divorced one book, led to another, and over 35 years that number turned into 13,000 books.

"I looked over at a shelf and I had about 35 North Dakota books on it which for most people would be a pretty significant collection," he said. "I would guess most homes don't have more than a few, a handful. And I thought you know I can just start collecting North Dakota books. How much work could it be? How many could there be? 600 or 700. So I set out to get them all and of course I realized that there are thousands and thousands."


His childhood home which was located next to the school was left unused after the death of his parents.

Carvell said the idea of his childhood home being left vacant bothered him so much that he sold his home in Fargo and came back to his hometown.

He brought with him a collection of books in the move and built a large addition to hold his books which have now started overflowing into his living room shelves.

While it may seem overwhelming, Carvell navigates his plethora of books with ease knowing, mostly, where to look for any book he's trying to find.

He said he's read 65 percent of the books in his library so far. He marks the books he's yet to read with a pink sticky note.

Carvell said he has books ranging from free to $500 or $600. Of those books one of his favorites only cost a few dollars.

While in Seattle, he found "Song of the Dusty Stars" by William Murray.

The book didn't pop out to him too much at the beginning until he realized it sounded a little too familiar.


"As I'm paging through it, he disguises everything. He changes things just a little bit," he said. "As I go through it he's describing a trial his father is working on it involved a mysterious double murder and they can't find out who did. And it dawned on me, this is the case of my uncle (Charlie) who he, and his roommate, were murdered here back in the '30s and it's never been solved."

Carvell has a story attached to every book and all of the North Dakota knick-knacks and artwork in his office.

On one wall a North Dakota political button collection sits, while a few steps away a bison sculpture is perched on a book case.

Everywhere in his office is lined with North Dakota treasures.

"He's doing a great service to the state by having that collection," said Dorgan.

While Carvell said he isn't sure what will happen to his collection when he's gone, for now he's always willing to lend a hand for research or talk about what he loves most-North Dakota.

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