December 5, 2012

KENNEBEC TALES: Belgrade library feels the love

By Maureen Milliken
News Editor

Patrons of Belgrade Public Library are getting a special treat these days -- a nice tote bag to bring their books home in. They not only get to keep it, but they also get an extra week to keep the books before returning them.

The patrons' part of the deal is they have to return the books to the library's new location -- a nice, much bigger building at 124 Depot Road.

The library right now is crammed into a small room at the community center, and the new location is a long time coming, the product of a lot of work by a lot of people.

But the fact the library has such good news shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who has followed what's been happening with libraries over the past few years.

While a lot of institutions and organizations have downsized or downright collapsed under the burden of the bad economy and new technology, libraries have run forward with open arms.

Belgrade came to the library business relatively late -- the little space it's working out of has been around for only a decade. The new building, owned by Friends of Belgrade Library, is a tribute not only to the dedicated group who worked for years to gather donations of money and services, to work and plan and convince people, but also a tribute to libraries everywhere and the place they have in people's hearts.

In an era where changes -- some for the worse, a lot for the better -- have come fast and furious, libraries remain a constant.

It's easy to believe moms still push strollers to the library, giving their toddlers a love of books before they can even read. That teenagers still sit in stacks for hours, poring over a newly discovered author, the smell of books around them. That someone running errands on a rainy day stops at the library, not only to return or pick up books, but to soak up the kind of warmth that rooms full of books can give.

Libraries are full of smart people. That's what books and learning do for you. And being smart, librarians realized early -- earlier than newspapers, for instance -- that instead of fighting the changes to how information is delivered, they'd step it up. They'd always been a resource for people and there was no reason to stop just because some of that was coming without ink on paper.

Library's websites are some of the most comprehensive and sophisticated around. They have Facebook pages. Heck, you can follow Winthrop's Charles M. Bailey Memorial Library on Twitter (handle: @CMBaileyLibrary).

Don't go looking for a card catalog. Most of them have their collections computerized.

Have a Nook? Kindle? No problem. Your library now lends e-books.

Waterville Public Library -- check out its website, www.watervillelibrary.org -- has a calendar loaded with events, including job-finding workshops and computer classes for seniors.

Lithgow Library in Augusta hosts an October Mystery Month that draws nationally known writers.

Some towns and cities are very lucky. Someone decades, or a century, or two centuries ago, decided a public library was worth the money.

Some, like Lithgow, have a home that was built when the pursuit of knowledge was still something that inspired awe and respect.

With its classic Romanesque architecture, stained-glass windows, mosaics, the names of writers and philosophers carved in stone, its cozy yet elegant reading room, Lithgow says to the world "knowledge is our religion and we worship here."

Farmington and Waterville also have impressive buildings. Buildings that tell you the community believes what happens inside is important.

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