STOCKTON SPRINGS, Maine — Although the Stockton Springs Community Library features cozy reading areas, the newest hardcover books and a home in a historic sea captain’s house, its most unusual feature is located just outside the front door — a yellow and green cart with a sign that says “Returnables for Reading.”
Over the last nine years, nickels earned through the library’s nonstop bottle drive have totaled $50,000, and for this week’s National Library Week, the Stockton Springs library volunteers are celebrating that remarkable sum.
“I think it’s pretty good,” said Basil Staples, a 74-year-old volunteer who, along with his wife, Mary, helped found the library in 2001. “We tried it just to see if it would work, and it did.”
The bottle drive was the brainchild of the retired millworker, who remembered just how successful a similar project was at the former Champion paper mill in Bucksport. In Stockton Springs, the bottle money provides most of the library’s steady income and allows it to thrive.
“If we don’t have bottles and cans, we won’t have new books,” said Janice Capano, a library board trustee. “We’re up-to-the-minute. You wouldn’t think so. You think old building, old books, but that’s not the case at all.”
On a recent day, seasonal resident Paulina Joyce, who painted the cart four years ago with her daughter Kim Hammer, pulled up with two bags of bottles.
“I think it’s just fantastic,” she said. “I think this is a wonderful way to recycle and make money for the library. It’s amazing how much they’ve made.”
What’s also amazing is how the town has pulled together behind its library, Staples said, adding that before 2001, Stockton Springs never had a library.
“We had 1,400 people and had no library,” the 10th-generation Stockton Springs native said with an air of faint embarrassment.
Staples’ parents were avid readers, and so was he, inhaling books such as the Hardy Boys mysteries as he grew up.
By the time he retired from the mill in 1999, the town had purchased the 13-room Colcord House, but officials ultimately decided it would be too expensive to turn it into the municipal offices. There was a price tag of $300,000 just to get the vacant, dilapidated building up to code, Staples said.
After the town decided to lend the house to the Stockton Springs Historical Society, library volunteers were motivated to get organized and use some of the available space.
A visiting expert from the Bangor Public Library encouraged library volunteers to renovate one room and open that, so patrons would start to depend on it.
“That’s what we did, and it was a good idea,” Staples said.
The work was major, but the volunteers were stalwart. They put in an electrical system, replaced the windows, put on a new roof, and replaced the furnace with a secondhand one bought from the Frankfort Public Library.
“We started from horrendous beginnings,” Capano said.
A $25,000 grant from the Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation allowed them to finish the children’s room, and bit by bit, the building was made usable.
Now, it’s more than just usable. The children’s room upstairs has kid-size bookshelves, brightly painted walls and cork floors to reduce noise. A reading room downstairs has a big wooden table and pink geraniums blooming in the windows, and the library has a lot of features that other small libraries don’t, Staples said.
“We really work hard at it,” Capano said.
There are no employees, but a group of 28 regular volunteers work to keep the facility open a total of 15 hours spread over four days a week.
“We get a good turnout for it. Everybody gets along well,” Staples said, adding that he enjoys volunteering for the library. “It’s just something to help the town.”