Nestled among the birches at the end of a winding road near the Penobscot River in Hampden sits the Edythe L. Dyer Community Library. While the library only had a few benefactor-donated books when it opened, it now has some 27,000 titles on its shelves.
The library has more than just books. Patrons can borrow magazines, audio tapes, and video cassettes. The selection may not be as great as at the local video store, but the library loans its cassettes for longer periods of time, enabling viewers to enjoy such long-running educational and classic titles as the PBS film series, “The Thorn Birds” and “I, Claudius.”
The library lists its contents in a computerized index that offers information at users’ fingertips. There is no need for a card catalog. The automated circulation system monitors the status of each library book and records requests from patrons; this way, the library staff can call the patron when the book is available.
“Nationally, kids make up 65 percent of library usage, and adults 30 percent,” said Librarian Beverly Lambert. “Here, it is 50-50. We make a heavy commitment to serving children, which leads to other things. It fits well with Hampden’s commitment to children.”
Starting with a preschool introduction to the library, children progress from picture books to chapter books. “We want to create a library habit,” Lambert said. “Children look to the library for recreation, adults (look to it) for information.
“It gets harder as the kids get older, because there’s a lot of after-school activity. Our emphasis is still on preschool,” she said.
According to Lambert, “Because of our low visibility, we work very hard to promote awareness of the library through advertisements, press releases, television, radio, newspapers, and posters, together with a regular section in the local school administrative district newsletter.
“Some people don’t think of the library’s services. We like to remind them that it’s available even for non-readers,” she said.
“Every man, woman, and child in Hampden pays to maintain the library, which is totally supported by the Hampden municipal budget,” Lambert stated. “Of the town’s 5,500 residents, 3,000 are registered users.”
Statistics indicate that book circulation is increasing at an annual 50 percent rate. The fastest growth in registered borrowers is with people who live outside Hampden. “Because of the poor economy, people use the library more. It makes us all feed good,” Lambert said.
The library recently started charging an annual $20 per family fee to non-resident users. “There is a lot of pressure on the books and the building,” Lambert said. “Hampden has maintained the same level of services or more, even though some surrounding towns are cutting back.”
Faced with accelerated growth, library trustees voted to form a volunteer committee to plan for the library’s future. The committee’s first meeting will be held in March.
The library staff develops many programs, ranging from four story times per week to puppet shows, mask-making, cooking classes, poetry readings, and live-animal visits. “Schools have lots of things available, but we have programs that can be shared with the whole family,” Lambert said. “It’s important that shared culture be made available. It’s what makes us Americans.”
— By Melissa MacCrae