April 05, 2020

The loneliest buildings in town

Small villages and towns Down East who boast their own library indeed have a resource in need of preservation. In these days, our libraries might just as well be on the endangered species list, since so few library cards are issued to young folks.

They’re too busy text-messaging, e-mailing, downloading, cell phoning, channel changing, it would never enter their heads to sit still and read a book. They probably don’t know Francis Bacon nor his quote: “Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man.”

And if they don’t read, they can’t write, as evidenced by this portion of a GED exam for which the student, writing an essay about an uncle, received (amazingly) a diploma:

“But disspite his crazey ways, some rite and some rong, there was one peacfull activiety that he endjod and that was fishiny.”

One peaceful activity this student should have enjoyed was reading from the bookshelves of his town library. Unfortunately, he may have lacked the encouragement to do so.

That’s why so many community libraries offer special children’s reading hours during summertime, field trips to the public library during the school year and evening socials to meet regional authors.

Volunteer librarians spend a lot of their time – and worry – trying to drum up business from a society so seemingly scattered its interests are always elsewhere.

In pre-television days, that was not the case. Entertainment was pretty scarce in coastal and rural parts of Maine back then, so youngsters trudged to their town libraries on Saturdays to check out a couple of books for their coming week’s entertainment, perhaps Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys and endless other adventurers.

According to one local history, it was not until the February 1903 annual town report that there was any mention of a town-sponsored library program. Several community leaders succeeded in getting the town to appropriate $200 to be used for library purposes. More shelving was installed in the town library along with a small wood stove for winter warmth.

“The room was still frigid, however, and one early librarian is said to have wrapped herself in a blanket, with a soapstone at her feet, during the coldest of Saturday afternoons, the only time the library was open,” writes the late historian Allan Smallidge about his town’s first library.

Nowadays, public and private support for town libraries has increased. Buildings have been remodeled and expanded, lighting and heating have improved, book volume has grown, computers have been made available, hours of operation have been extended.

Remember clasping your hands while holding your thumbs together and pointing your index fingers: Here’s the church, here’s the steeple, open the door and there’s the people?

If anything is lacking in our fine public libraries, it’s people.

“Libraries are not made; they grow.”

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