January 2

Maine libraries write new chapter on lending

Cake pans, fishing poles, dolls and ukuleles are among the items circulating in Maine as libraries expand their mission.

By Ray Routhier rrouthier@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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On a national level, the president-elect of the American Library Association says libraries have always added non-book items to their collections, such as record players or vinyl records 30 years ago. Courtney Young said she’s heard recently of many libraries adding musical instruments and tools to their circulating collections. But what new items a library comes up with really depends on the priorities of the community and staff.

“I think the mission of libraries evolves over time, as the needs of the community evolve,” said Young.

Librarian Jim Charette holds one of two telescopes available for lending at the Portland Public Library.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

There was a time when the main purpose of the local library was as a place for students to get books for book reports. But today families often use the library together. The York Public Library loans out 10 nature backpacks, each filled with maps, books, nets and other items. Each is designed to let the family explore their local forests, ponds, marshes or beaches together.

“I was surprised, it didn’t seem like a resource I’d expect a library to have, yet it is a wonderful extension of what they do,” said Amy Burke of York, who has borrowed the backpacks five or six times with her two sons, ages 3 and 5. “It’s fun because they inspire you to explore.”

So how does a library end up with a cake pan collection? Or fishing gear? Often somebody donated the stuff. Or a staffer or resident suggested something. Most libraries say they don’t spend money from their budgets on the collections, usually getting the items donated or with the help of grants. The value of the items can range from $110, the retail price of the American Girl dolls loaned out at Patten Free Library in Bath and Lewiston Public Library, to nearly $300, the approximate retail price of the Orion telescopes loaned by Portland Public Library.

In New Gloucester’s case, the cake pans were the idea of library trustee Tim Terranova. The father of two children who are now 10 and 12 had amassed a cake pan collection at his home over the years that included soccer ball shapes, Winnie-the-Pooh, and the cast of “Veggie Tales.” So he knew first hand that with most specialty cake pans, you buy them once and use them once. Then he read about another small town library loaning cake pans, and decided to donate his pans.

“I like to look for different things the library could do, and I figured everybody needs a cake pan at some point,” said Terranova, 39. “We’ve talked about lending out tools too, but there’s more of a space issue there.”

The Portland Public Library, in addition to books, loans MiniTemp thermometers to help homeowners weatherize their buildings, as demonstrated by Arts Librarian Tom Wilsbach.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

Since donating the pans, Terranova has been a borrower too. He found that maybe he did need specialty pans for a few more years. Lucky for him his collection is still intact, and it’s been added to as well.

The New Gloucester library has had the cake pan collection, including pans donated from people other than Terranova, for a couple years and so far has only seen light usage. But that’s not the case in Bath, where the Patten Free Library has received four donated American Girl dolls since last summer and has not been able to keep them on the shelves.

The dolls, each from a specific historic period, sell for $110 each with a companion book. But children can show their library card and take home the dolls for a week for free. They also get a kit of goodies that includes accessories, clothes, books and a journal to document their adventures together.

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