Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Small Town Library - Dispatches from Maine

There is something very special about a small town library. Living as I do in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, I am in a habit of frequenting large and often very impersonal libraries. For years I have wandered the cavernous reading rooms and the labyrinthine stacks of the Library of Congress. Then there are the many university libraries, the District of Columbia Public Library system, as well as those serving the suburban counties in Maryland and Virginia. During the summer I frequent the campus library at Bates College, in Lewiston, Maine, where I have research and borrowing privileges so that I can work on my various projects while we are on our summer hiatus. In most of these libraries you pretty much need to know what you are looking for and how to find it. These institutions are manned by librarians and their acolytes and they are often pulled in so many directions that there is little opportunity for personal attention and consultation. There are, of course, exceptions to every rule, and I have found individuals who are ready and willing to assist me. More times than not, however, I am left to fend for myself. And usually I prefer it that way. So a small town library is a welcome respite from the routine and one to be savored.

A couple of years ago we finally discovered the village library serving New Gloucester, Maine, where we have spent our summers for the past 25 years. I don’t know why we did not visit it before since we use our summer sojourns at the lake to catch up on our reading. Early on these visits were for two or three weeks each summer and we usually brought enough reading material with us to keep us busy. Three summers ago, after my retirement, we began to spend the entire summer at the lake and we soon ran out of books to read. Good book stores can be few and far between up here (although there are some we do like to frequent) and so we decided to check out the local library to see if we could borrow books over the summer. We were delighted when we learned that we could, and even more delighted when we discovered it to be an absolutely charming place staffed by some absolutely charming people who have also become our friends and whom we look forward to seeing whenever we return to Maine.

One of the more charming and inviting aspects of the library is its location. It is situated on the Intervale Road in the heart of New Gloucester’s “Lower Village and adjacent to the Town Hall and Meeting House, and just around the corner from the large white-washed Congregational Church. It is housed in the former high school constructed in 1903 and closed in 1962 when the high schools in New Gloucester and neighboring Gray merged. The library, formerly housed in the town meeting hall, moved into the vacant building in 1998.

And then there are the people. We have come to know Suzan Hawkins and Carla Mcallister, the two librarians who always meet you with a big smile and a pleasant “hello.” They seem to know the names of everyone who visits the library and probably do. Everyone feels most welcome be they young or old. There is always something interesting to look at and usually one of the tables has a puzzle at some stage of completion.

A small town library is often the hub of the community, and this is certainly the case here in New Gloucester. It sponsors an annual challenge to see how many books its patrons can read over the summer. A small stone is placed into a large glass jar as each book is completed. This year the jar contained over 5000 stones when the challenge ended in late August, a sizeable increase over previous years. There is the annual pet show, book groups, a reading hour for the kids, and much, much more. It is just a great place to hang out. You feel the pulse of the community strong and clear when you visit.

This year I was honored to be part of what we hope will become an annual event . . . “Poetry in the Gazebo.” Earlier this past week those of us interested in sharing our work as well as our favorite poems by others gathered in the charming little gazebo behind the library. It was a cool evening signaling the approach of autumn. The trees were showing hints of color and what better way to celebrate poetry? We always hate to leave Maine and one of the things we miss most is the friendly folks and atmosphere at the New Gloucester Library. There is always next summer. It can’t come soon enough.

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