Category Archives: Library Stories

Library Week: An Evening of Firsts

A guardian of the library
A guardian of the library

Last night was an evening of firsts at the Charles M. Bailey Public Library. It was the first time the newly expanded library was open to the public. It was the first time the new events room was used, and it was the first time for the new blue folding chairs, quite an improvement over the old wooden ones. It was the first time our new town manager—Peter Nielsen—came to an event. (He’s promised to come to all of them.) Firsts, firsts, firsts.

What a wonderful feeling to walk through this library and admire the wood, the layout, even the light. One man said, “Bravo, bravo!” as he wandered through the stacks in the adult section. After all the hard work—and, yes, the setbacks and the criticisms—how good it was to hear this.

Shane at the grand new circulation desk in the adult section


The teen section

The children’s section, once housed in the basement, is now on the first floor, and simply put, it is a magical place. I know. Magical is a word that can be overused, but the children’s area is now so delightful that no other word will do. It has everything that children and the young at heart will love—large stuffed animals, giant planes, a play area, a reading nook, and lots and lots of books. Lucky Winthrop children!

A place to play
A place to play
A cozy nook
A cozy nook
A giant plane
A giant plane

The first event of last night was a concert by the Winthrop Handbell Ringers. The bells’ tinkling, ethereal notes seemed like a welcome and a benediction.

The Winthrop Handbell Ringers
The Winthrop Handbell Ringers

After the concert, Earle Shettleworth, the state historian, spoke about the history of the Blaine House, the governor’s mansion in Augusta. Shettleworth was articulate, informative, and funny. He spoke for an hour, but I could have listened to him for even longer.  Along with his talk, there was a media presentation—what would have once been called a slide show—of stills about the Blaine House and its occupants through the years. Best of all, Shettleworth was quick to name the various dogs in the photos, and he apologized when he didn’t know a dog’s name. He also praised the design of the new addition and noted how well it tied in with the original building. (Thank you, thank you, Phil Locashio, architect extraordinaire!)

Earle Shettleworth
Earle Shettleworth

What an auspicious way to begin the second hundred years in our newly expanded library.

Another guardian of the library
Another guardian of the library


Library Week: Our Beautiful Expanded Library

This week begins the celebration of the expanded Charles M. Bailey Public Library, with June 1 being the official opening day. For the next few days, there will be special events to mark this grand occasion.

The expanded library

This project was spearheaded by the library trustees, who in turn worked with a terrific group of people on a campaign team. This is our gift to the town. Collectively, we will have raised over one million dollars for this project, and all the money will be coming from grants and donations. (The town did generously allow us to borrow $300,000 as part of a larger municipal bond.)

All the construction work was done by local people, even the bookshelves and the circulation desk. As a result much of the money stayed right in Winthrop. Now that’s what I call an economic stimulus!

Not too bad for a town of 6,000. Not bad at all.

The original Bailey Library
The addition

Gardening and Library and Dogs. Oh, My!

The patio is ready for Memorial Day. Now, if only those dratted black flies would go away.

The end of May is just around the corner, and what a busy time it is for the residents of the little house in the big woods. Gardening and planting have reached a fever pitch, and as I am someone who does not like to hurry, that along with writing and other household chores would be plenty to keep my days full.

However, next week our library will be having all sorts of events to celebrate the grand opening of the new addition—a speaker on Tuesday; on Wednesday a chainsaw carving of an owl for the children’s room; and on Friday a true open house where a “book” cake will be served.

To add to the jolly chaos, we will be babysitting our granddogs, Holly and Somara. I am praying for good weather so that the dogs can spend much of the day outside in the backyard.

In addition, we’re having friends over for a barbecue on Sunday, to celebrate Memorial Day. I’ll be making the first potato salad of the season, and we’ll be having the first grilled chicken, too. And grilled bread, of course.

Next week on the blog, I might focus more on images than words. Naturally, I’ll want to write a little something about the library’s grand opening. Just a little something.

And in honor of Memorial Day, as I work in the yard, I’ll remember family and friends who have passed. They are missed and are certainly not forgotten.


A New Podium for Charles M. Bailey Public Library

Mary Jane Auns, Trustee Chair, and Richard Fortin, Library Director, with the beautiful new podium made by Mario Meucci

As my grandmother might have put it, this morning I had to get up before breakfast to be at Winthrop High School by 8:30 a.m. I am a night owl, and while I’m usually up by 8:00 a.m., I’m not usually showered, dressed, and ready to go. However, it was well worth the hustle to be at the high school so early. Mario Meucci, a student in Todd MacArthur’s Furniture Construction Class, presented to the Bailey Library a podium that he built.

The podium was presented in a morning assembly in front of the students. Meucci spoke simply yet eloquently about how the podium was made of birch, just as there are birches at Norcross point, a town park by Maranacook Lake. Richard Fortin, the library’s director, thanked Meucci and noted how his gift would still be used in the library a hundred years from now.

How many students can say this about their work? This sense of doing something that will benefit the town well into the future is a subject I’ve discussed in previous posts about the library’s addition. As I’ve written before, most everyday people don’t have the opportunity to work on projects that will be around for over a hundred years. For me, as a volunteer, it has been very moving to be part of such a project, and it moves me even more to think of how this young man has made something that will ripple forward a hundred years. Speakers and authors not even born yet will be using that podium.

And what a beauty it is! Sleek, polished, and gleaming, it has the library’s logo on the front. It will go into the library’s new event room, which will be big enough to hold around 125 people. This birch podium will fit right in with all the wood furniture and shelves the trustees have purchased for the library.

Next week, there will be events and an open house to celebrate the new addition and the refurbishing of the original library.  (The library will be officially opening on June 1.) I’ve had ample opportunity to see the construction in progress and the finished results. Most patrons, however, have not had this chance, and next week will be the first time they will see the fruit of all the hard work—the constant fund raising, the planning, the revisions—that has  gone into this library project.

I hope they will be as thrilled as I am.

And thank you, thank you, Mario Meucci for the lovely new podium. It will be used for the first time on Tuesday, May 26 when Earle Shettleworth, the state historian, gives a talk.

Clif and I will be there.

Mario Meucci, the student who built the podium; Mary Jane Auns; Richard Fortin; and Keith Morin, high school principal



A Library Budget Cut?

Bailey Library, before the addition
Bailey Library, before the addition

Last night  in Winthrop, there was a town council meeting where our library’s budget was discussed. (Full disclosure: I am a trustee.) With the new addition, the library has nearly tripled in size, and we were asking for a $25,000 increase over last year’s library budget. This is right on par with what the architect suggested would be needed for the library after the addition was built, and the councilors knew this before they approved the project. (The library requested a total of two hundred eighty-three thousand dollars out of a seventeen million dollar town budget.)

First the bad news: The town council recommended a $10,000 increase rather than a $25,000 increase, which will make what is a tight library budget even tighter.  The trustees were taken to task for not wanting to use money from their endowment fund—there is about $100,000 in the account—to pad the budget. We were also chided for not doing enough to raise money for the library.

As I listened to various councilors scold us, I thought of the $900, 000 the trustees and the campaign team have raised for the addition and of the years of hard work that have gone into getting to this amount.  Like most projects, the expansion fund raising started with a bang, but it is inching ever so slowly to the end, and there is a lot more fund raising to go. I would encourage all those who think raising money is a snap to join the campaign team and help us reach our goal of a little over a million dollars.

Now the good news: Despite the tongue lashings, there was also a recommendation to forgive $100,000 of the $300,000 bond taken out by the town for the library expansion. The trustees are responsible for paying this bond, which is why we are so reluctant to dip into the endowment fund to operate the library. We are concerned, quite rightly, about paying this debt. If  $100, 000 of the bond were forgiven, then that would be a big help in our fund-raising efforts.

But best of all, the meeting room was packed with people who love the library. Around eighty people came to this meeting, and many of them spoke in defence of the library and the requested budget. It was heartening to see how many people in town love and use the library and how many think that it is important for the town to support the library. Unfortunately, despite the number of people, despite their eloquence, the councilors were not swayed to give the library the full $25,000 budget increase.

None of these decisions are final until the June meeting, where the budget is presented to the town, but it is my guess that the councilors will stick to the $15,000 cut and the $100,000 forgiveness of the loan.

One thing has become very clear to me. In times of budget shortfalls—brought in part by our governor’s decisions—the library is going to be a tempting target.

And we must never, never forget this.



The Town Library Changed My Life: A Guest Post by Randy Randall

In previous posts I’ve written about how libraries are priceless and give so much to their communities. My friend Randy Randall, a writer, feels the same way, and he loves libraries as much as I do. He wrote the following post about the Old Orchard Beach Public Library, the library he went to as a child.

Old Orchard Beach Public Library

Your note about celebrating the value of the library… [b]rought back some great memories. I think I told you how when we lived on the farm, my mother ordered a ‘summer bookshelf’ from the Maine
State Library. The books arrived in a wooden box like rifles would be shipped in. Come to think of it, those books by the world’s great authors were more powerful and dangerous then firearms.

But I digress…what I was really  thinking about was the Old Orchard Beach Library. A typical small town library, but for me it was Google,
Wikipedia and Youtube all wrapped up in one place. I practically lived there. I took out so many books and was such a frequent patron the librarian knew my card number by heart!  So I guess I owe my love of reading to my mother but I think there was some natural curiosity there as well. It keeps me going to this day.

I love learning stuff. For no other reason then just being
aware and intrigued by how the world works…. I remember the card catalogue and how the long  narrow drawers with the index cards slid open. I loved to roam the aisles fingering the spines of the books and bending my head sideways so I could read the titles. And when I
found one book I enjoyed I knew there were others of the same type all grouped together there on the shelf.

It was like hitting a rich vein in a gold mine! It also helped that the
the elderly librarian was a nice person. She was friendly and caring and took the trouble to know me personally. Not that that was all that difficult to do in a small Maine town. Still she looked out for me and set books aside she knew I’d enjoy.

“One of my favorite places to read was up in a tree. We had huge pasture pines with mighty limbs that were like arms and a small boy could easily straddle the limb or lean comfortably back against the trunk while he read Treasure Island. Oh don’t get me started. The town library changed my life. I’ll never forget it.

National Library Week: My Library, My Lifeline

IMG_8059This week is National Library Week. I know. It seems that every week, indeed every day, celebrates something or other, from popcorn to donuts to libraries. But it’s my guess that National Library Week, first sponsored in 1958 by the American Library Association (ALA) and the American Book Publishers, got the jump on most of the current weekly and daily celebrations. In a few years National Library Week will be celebrating its sixtieth birthday.

And how did National Library Week come about in that faraway time before computers, mobile phones, and the Internet? According to the ALA website, “In the mid-1950s, research showed that Americans were spending less on books and more on radios, televisions and musical instruments. Concerned that Americans were reading less, the ALA and the American Book Publishers formed a nonprofit citizens organization called the National Book Committee in 1954…In1957, the committee developed a plan for National Library Week based on the idea that once people were motivated to read, they would support and use libraries.” The theme for the first National Library Week was “Wake Up and Read.”

As a child, nobody had to tell me to wake up and read. Books were an integral part of my life, and lucky child that I was, my parents took me to two libraries—a tiny one in East Vassalboro, which served all of Vassalboro, where we lived, and a larger one in Waterville, the small city nearby. Every week, books came into the house, and books went out of the house. While I grew up in a comfortable, middle-class family, there was no way my parents could have afforded to buy me all the books I wanted to read. For a child who lived in a small, rural town, those libraries were a lifeline, giving me access to the broader world of stories and ideas.

Today, fifty years later, the library continues to be a lifeline for me. I still live in a small rural town—Winthrop rather than North Vassalboro—and both could certainly be considered the hinterlands of the hinterland. My husband and I live on a modest budget, and, as was the case when I was young, there is no way we could afford to buy all the books I want to read. Thanks to the library and interlibrary loan, I can get nearly any book I’m interested in, from classics such as Middlemarch by George Elliot to newer books such as Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis by Robert D. Putnam.

As the ALA likes to remind people, libraries are more than books, and all the DVDs Clif and I watch come from the library. The DVDs range from the highbrow—Shakespeare—to the lowbrow—television series such as The Americans. As with books, pretty much anything we want to watch is available to us.

Winthrop’s library is supported primarily through town taxes, and I expect this is true for most town libraries in Maine. Not surprisingly, I consider it money very well spent, and I don’t begrudge one penny of  property tax money that goes to the library. Our library is open to all residents, and it doesn’t matter who your family is or how much money you make. As long as you return the books you borrow, you are welcome to take out more books.

A friend of mine is moving to a small seaside town in Ireland that doesn’t have a library. (She will have access to a library in a larger town nearby.) She is a reader, and she says she is up to the challenge of living in a town with no library.

I have thought of this off and on for the past couple of days. Which would I choose, a town with a library or a town by the sea? This would not be an easy choice for me because I love the seaside nearly as much as I love books and libraries.

It would be a tough call, but I know that in the end, books and libraries would win.

Our Library’s Beautiful New Addition

The new adult section with its beautiful shelves and lights
The new adult section with its lovely shelves and lights

As long-time readers of this blog know, for the past few years, I have been part of a campaign team that has been working oh so diligently to raise money for a new addition for the Charles M. Bailey Public Library, our town’s library.  (Full disclosure: I am also a library trustee.) The budget is one million dollars, which sounds modest enough, but in fact it has been quite a challenge for a town with a population of 6,000.

Late last summer construction began, and all through the winter workers have been busy pounding, hammering, and sawing.  (Or sawring, as we Mainers would say.) Now the workers are coming down the homestretch. The new addition is nearly complete, and good progress is being made getting the original library spiffed up so that it won’t be totally overshadowed by its new sibling.

Yesterday, after doing our civic duty and paying our property taxes, Clif and I went over to Bailey Library to check on the progress. Oh, how beautiful Bailey is, even partially finished, and how wonderful it will be for the town to have this expanded library. The original library, built when the town was half the size it is now, was bursting at the seams, and there was no room for new books, not enough space for events, and hardly any place for the staff to work.

Now, we have a spacious new events room that will hold 130 people, greatly expanded children and adult sections, a meeting room, and an honest-to-God little staff room. The expanded library, in the center of town, will truly become even more central than it is now.

I want readers to know that while Bailey Library hosts events, has computers, and offers a wide range of DVDs, real books, made of paper, are still the thing, with thousands being checked out each month. And I’m happy to report that this book trend doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon.

Right now, volunteers are busy shelving books that had to be stored during construction. (The library is in temporary quarters in the Commerce Building in town.) In late spring or early summer, Bailey Library will reopen, and there will be a grand celebration.

I’ve written this before, and I’ll write it again. It’s not every day that ordinary people get to work on a project that will be around long after they are gone. One hundred years from now, Bailey Library will be there for the people of Winthrop. It’s been a true pleasure to be a part of this project.

The beautiful lobby, with original stone work
The beautiful lobby, with original stone work
The view from the lobby of the adult section
The view from the lobby of the new adult section
Wainscotting from the Masonic Building that had to be torn down to make way for the new addition.
Wainscotting from the Masonic Building, which had to be torn down to make way for the new addition
A view of "old" Bailey, still under renovation
A view of “old” Bailey, still under renovation
The spacious new events room
The spacious new events room

Library Update: January 9, 2015

IMG_7197Yesterday’s post certainly qualified as a bummer post, a gloomy look at potential  political decisions and the effects they would have on towns and individuals. Therefore, I thought I would balance today’s post with something more uplifting—a library update. It also seemed like a good way to end the week.

The library expansion is coming along beautifully, and the shell clearly shows just how much the library will be gaining in space. The addition fits right in with the older historic building, and even the siding is a wonderful match. For this we have Phil Locashio to thank, an architect par excellence.

When this is done, the library will truly be a gem in the center of town. Lucky Winthrop!




Flying Geese, Hard Lives, and Libraries

Blue sky, no geese
Blue sky, no geese

Yesterday, as I went into the backyard, I heard the unmistakable sound of geese calling as they flew. I looked up, hoping I would catch a glimpse of them—sometimes they fly off to one side where you can hear but not see them. Luck was with me. In two broad V formations, they flew right over the little house in the big woods. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera, but it wouldn’t have mattered if I had. My camera is so small and simple that it wouldn’t have caught the geese.

I stood watching their dark silhouettes against the deep blue sky, and they flew low enough so that I could see the beating of their wings. Seeing them fly, hearing their call, and thinking of their long, perilous journey brought tears to my eyes, as it always does.

“Bon chance and bon voyage,” I called to them. I thought of how hard and dangerous life was for geese. I wondered, are they ever afraid? Do they dwell on their hard lives, the way we humans dwell on our own?  Or, flapping those strong wings, do the geese just push on,  guided by some mysterious instinct we can only dimly grasp? As we don’t speak or understand the language of geese, we can’t know, but perhaps someday we will.

The theme of a hard life threaded itself through my day. Later in the afternoon, two men came with a big truck and hose and pumped out our septic tank. The driver was a large, cheerful man and good for him because what a hard way to make living, removing excrement and waste from people’s yards. True, he has machines to help him, but he has to stand there and watch and smell. (I sure hope his sense of smell is muted.) Jobs such as this are often looked down on, but what would happen if the workers suddenly decided they had had enough of cleaning septic systems? Society would be thrown into a panic as everyone belatedly realized how vital these workers were to our well being.

That evening, I went to a library expansion meeting where I heard what we have come to call a “solicitation story.” A campaign member told of a recent conversation she had had with a man who has given a generous donation to the library. This man  lives out of town but was raised in Winthrop. He told the campaign member that when he was young, had it not been for Bailey Library,  he never would have read as much as he did. This was at a time when kids in high school  were put either on a college track or on a vocational track, and because his family was poor, he was not put on a college track. (This happened to my father, too.) Nevertheless, this man read and read and eventually went to college, got his PhD, and became a professor. (I want to make it clear that I think a vocational track is just fine. We need skilled workers who do practical things. But the choice should be based on temperament and interest, not income.)

Would he have done this without Bailey Library? Perhaps, but I’ve no doubt that the library gave him an important intellectual boost when he really needed it.

Life can be hard, for people as well as geese, and the older I get, the more convinced I am that libraries, large or small, can make life a little less hard.