Wiscasset Public Libraryby Kitty Wheeler
Coastal Journal contributor
Public libraries are a repository of books as well as high-tech services. They also offer many other programs that appeal to their cardholders and other patrons. Wiscasset, Bath, and Brunswick are rightly proud of their libraries. Each one creates a sense of place for their citizens and opens the door to the world of reading.
Wiscasset Public Library
Wiscasset Public Library envelopes a beautiful Federal house, built in 1805, on High Street. The library association, which formed in 1799 and incorporated in 1920, moved into the house in 1929. A necessary addition for the Children’s Library and reference material was built in 1980.
The budget to run the library is $170,000. In addition to Wiscasset, the library is also supported by the neighboring towns of Westport Island, Alna and Edgecomb, which contribute taxpayer funds to the library budget, thus entitling the citizens of those towns to be cardholders. Currently 5,696 members help the library thrive. Other non-residents who want to join the library may become a member for a $30 annual family fee.
Pam Dunning, who has been director for five years, sees the library’s role as a reflection of what it has been through the years: Information, connectivity, and a meeting place. The new technology has enhanced reading opportunities for the public, and therefore, Dunning doesn’t buy as many reference materials, because the Internet has so much information. In fact, most reference books are now put into circulation.
There are four computers available to patrons and visitors, who use them to access information that is easily accessible on the Internet. And they also stay in touch with friends and family. During vacations, especially in the summer months, the computers are often used by visitors and summer residents.
The number of employees at the library has not changed with the technological improvements. The director is the one full-time employee, and there are three part-time staff. A handful of volunteers give their time at the circulation desk, and others shelve books. There is not a community room, but the library provides programs and activities for their patrons in the large Fiction Room. The Friends’ group is in hiatus now, with only its Executive Board having meetings.
An active group of writers meets weekly and shares their creative pieces; they give honest feedback to one another for how to improve their writing. A Book Group is looking for a better hour to meet regularly. And there have been meetings with a recent author who will share her techniques and style with patrons.
A bustling Children’s Library is located downstairs, and it holds weekly reading hours for pre-school children and parents. There are also summer reading programs for elementary school children and middle schoolers. One of the ongoing attractions for children is a Children’s Garden, spearheaded by the Garden Club of Wiscasset. A butterfly garden has recently been planted, and some children have helped garden club members plant annual flowers.
The second floor holds an important Art Book library, one of the best collections in the state. There is also a genealogy and history room that provides important information for the public.
Audio cassettes, e-Books, CDs, and large-print books are an important part of the Wiscasset library as well. There are 60 public libraries in Maine that are part of a consortium called Minerva. By using the consortium, libraries can provide e-Books and audio CDs to their library cardholders. Two thousand e-Books and audio cassettes may be checked out from the Wiscasset library. There is a two-week period for reading a book before it is deleted from the electronic equipment. Large print books have a huge following, as well.
Dunning doesn’t see the role of a library changing very much in the next 10 years. “There won’t be fewer print books, but electronic media will be much larger. There will be many more e-Books, and cardholders will use more tablets devices.” The director also provides free notary services, and she is a passport acceptance agent.
The stately public library on High Street, built around 1805, is a vital part of the community. It is a nonprofit institution that depends on fundraising efforts, such as an annual appeal, selling used books, and hoping to increase the endowment. Its hours are Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. (During the summer hours, however, the library is closed on Saturdays.)
Patten Free Library
Bath’s Patten Free Library, 33 Summer St. (443-5141) also serves Georgetown, Arrowsic, Woolwich, and West Bath residents. (At this year’s town meeting, Phippsburg citizens didn’t pass the library’s requested allocation, so their only option is to purchase a $50 non-resident card for each individual.)
George and John Patten were generous subscribers to the Patten Library Association, which was founded in 1847. Collections were kept in rented rooms and, later, a donated house. Galen C. Moses gave $10,000 for the construction of a new library building, with the stipulation that its use be free for all Bath citizens.
An open house was held January 1, 1891, for all citizens to attend. There have been two additions to the original building since then, in 1961 and 1998. The original 1890 building was restored as well. Lesley Dolinger, the director for the past three years, states that the mission of Patten Free Library is to be a community center for the four towns that support the library. Its new mission statement stresses lifelong learning, preserving local history, and building partnerships in the communities.
The annual budget is $677,450. There are 8,200 cardholders, and many more patrons use the facility. The library has four full-time staff (IT staff has been outsourced at this time), and 18 part-time employees. Its hours are Tuesday and Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Thursday and Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Given the cutbacks due to Phippsburg’s denial of town funds, a proposed schedule to keep the library open until 4 p.m. on Saturdays has been eliminated.
The explosion of technology has dramatically affected the way people use the library. Wi-fi is a critical service, and some citizens park in the lot outside the library during off hours to access the Internet. There are five laptops and 12 computer desktops available for the public to use. And many now own hand-held devices that they can access in Patten Free. Again, through the use of the consortium, the library has 2,800 e-Book choices that can be checked out. Audio selections are also available.
The Children’s Library, resplendent with Dahlov Ipcar murals, offers many programs. Daily story time, after care programs, particularly for the YMCA and Dyke-Fisher elementary school, Chess Club, Lego League, and a Kid’s Book Club are ongoing features. A busy summer reading program is also part of the program. And the popular “Paws for Reading” program bring dogs into the library for children to practice their out loud reading.
The community room’s programs appeal to many people. Midcoast Senior College offers courses there; a monthly book group holds its discussions there as well. And a popular film series entices residents to attend. “Meet the Author” is another inviting program that periodically features writers in a number of genres. And this fall, there is a four-part series on College Preparation. A new program, “Book a Librarian,” has just started; the public may reserve a librarian’s time to help update a job resume, learn how to access Facebook, how to look for a job, and what different technologies can do for more book access.
Like any nonprofit organization, Patten Free Library needs to have fundraising events. The Friends run the second-hand bookstore on Front Street. The group also operates the Heritage Days Used Book Sale. Five percent of the library’s budget comes from the efforts of the Friends’ group. It also supported the vibrant discussion by the director of Portland Symphony Orchestra, Robert Moody, this summer.
Grants allow the library to provide Maine Humanities Council courses. A five-week discussion of the Civil War was a recent offering. A musical program that included a string quartet for children was the recipient of further support.
Two special places attract the public. The History and Genealogy Room, located upstairs next to the community room, is a wonderful place to learn about the history of the area and uncover one’s family roots. A large Reading Room in the original 1890 building welcomes anyone to settle down in an easy chair and peruse magazines and newspapers or a new book. The Kennebec River view from its windows encapsulates Bath’s earlier shipbuilding days.
As to the future of the library in ten years, Dolinger envisions Patten Free continuing to be a destination place. “Residents want to gather together as a community where they can get more information through discussions, checking out print books, or learning how to access the new electronic media. Our staff will remain facilitators and communicators to assist the public with all the advantages of its public library.”
Curtis Memorial Library
Curtis Memorial Library, 23 Pleasant St., Brunswick (725-5242), is the public library for both Harpswell and Brunswick. The first library association was started in 1883. By 1904, William J. Curtis built the original structure in memory of his father, Captain John Curtis. A second large addition was completed in 1999 after a great deal of input from the community. The public wanted a large community room as well as smaller spaces. They also requested tutorial classrooms for the adult literacy program, as well as a job-search center that offered Internet access, help with resume writing, and a financial literacy. These centers are often in use, and the reference department gives a hand to those who need assistance.
The library’s annual budget is $1.5 million, and there are 12,000 cardholders. Ten full-time and 36 part-time employees make up the staff, and 370 volunteers from the community contribute their time during the year. Its hours are Monday through Thursday, 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (July and August, 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.) and Sunday, noon to 4. (The library is closed on Sundays during July and August).
Liz Doucett has been the director for six years. She sees the library as the focal point of community life. The main purpose of any library is to promote reading and absorb information. There are two librarians, one for the children’s area and another for the teen center, so the very young are introduced to books early and high school students can plug into literature that is appealing to them.
Curtis Memorial has many different programs to offer to the community. There are two different book groups, one on mystery writers, and the other on best-selling novels. Midcoast Senior College uses the Morrill Meeting Room to hold some of its classes in the fall and spring. Furthermore, it organizes Winter and Summer Wisdom classes with local speakers. Some of the participants asked for a current events discussion, so every Thursday, at noon during the school year, people gather to talk about world affairs. There is a moderator who stresses rules of civility and poses different questions.
A vibrant Friends’ group that boasts of more than 400 members holds a successful second-hand book sale each June. $50,000 was raised this summer, and the funds are given to the library to purchase new books and support other program activities.
The impact of technology has enhanced the number of e-Books and audio devices. Curtis offers 2,800 e-Books and hundreds of audio cassettes and CDs to its cardholders. “Technology augments what we do,” said Doucett. There are 40 computers for the public to use. These computers and most other services, including the Job Search Center, are open to the community, and no library card is needed.
The magnitude of services Curtis Memorial Library provides for its cardholders and area residents adds to the buzz in the library world that libraries are now the “third place.” Your home and workplace are your first two anchors. A “third place” is important for civil society, democracy, and civic engagement. Some hallmarks for this “place” are free or inexpensive, highly accessible, welcoming and comfortable, where both new friends and old gather, and food and drink may be used. (There are tables in the atrium as well as outside the building that encourage people to sit, chat and eat.)
As one urban planner has suggested, a public library is a civic information center, a partner in public service, a public forum, and an enabler of civic literacy. Curtis Memorial Library is an equalizer for all residents of the midcoast, tourists who are passing through Brunswick, and any citizen who wants to engage with people and ideas. Perhaps the best analogy of this library is likening it to the “public square,” so prevalent in European cities and some of the bolder ones in the United States.
Doucett states, “In 10 years, our library will continue to be community-oriented. It is a vibrant, yet safe, place with on-going changes to its services. Print books will still be here, but there will be more electronic tools. The demand for e-Books will grow, and the newer field of ‘vooks’ (video books) and other media options will tantalize citizens.”
And, she said, the fireplace in the original building crackles on Sunday afternoons.
Clearly, these three midcoast public libraries are alluring places to visit, to spend hours, if not days, while enjoying their collections and services. These libraries, as institutions, belong to us. Be sure to use them and enjoy.