April 09, 2020

Congratulations, Bangor

If a city’s library says something about its citizenry — and it surely does — the new, improved Bangor Public Library speaks volumes about Bangorites.

An $8.5 million capital campaign; the restoration of an 85-year-old building; the addition of 26,000 square feet of new space; open-shelf, hands-on access to a 485,000-book storehouse of knowledge, information and insight — those things are important and impressive, but this is about a lot more than big numbers.

It’s about a community pulling together for its own benefit and for the benefit of generations to come. It’s about ordinary folks following the lead of the prominent — this started, remember, with a $2.5 million gift from Stephen and Tabitha King — with donations of considerably fewer zeroes. It’s about schoolkids selling pencils and bookmarks to do their part.

The new library opened its doors Monday in an appropriately hushed way, but the transformation is stunning. The 1912 section has gone from grubby to grand, the addition is drenched in sunlight. Those patrons who aren’t luxuriating in the cultural wealth revealed by the open stacks or gaping goggle-eyed at the architecture are doing something the old setup didn’t permit — relaxing in comfy chairs and engaging in quiet conversation with friends and strangers. The library has gone from a warehouse for books to a gathering place for people.

The library won’t have its official dedication until May, a wise move considering that flowering shrubs and trees provide a much prettier backdrop for pomp than piles of slush. At that time, city leaders no doubt will offer much-deserved words of thanks to the Kings for their extraordinary generosity, to architect Robert A.M. Stern for his deft blending of the old and new, to the contractors and workers for their skillful labor. It was huge job and one well done. Congratulations to them, but, most of all, congratulations to Bangor.

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