It must have seemed ironic that Orono, the town which contained the University of Maine’s flagship campus and therefore had to be considered the seat of learning in central Maine, didn’t have a free-standing public library.
But for more than 40 years, from the early 1960s until 2009, that was the case.
The public library and the school library shared space inside Orono’s middle school-high school, which didn’t make for a comfortable arranged marriage.
“It was difficult [for patrons] to get to the school, and hours [for the public] were limited,” recalled Laurie Carpenter, the public library director who has been with the institution for nearly a quarter-century. “People tried to make it work, but there were definitely different missions, with the school library supporting the curriculum and the public library providing services for the general public.”
Concerned citizens started looking at the situation in the 1990s. The Orono Public Library Foundation was established in 2002 to build a free-standing public library for Orono and to provide for the library’s ongoing support.
About $2.2 million, including $600,000 from the town, was raised for the new building, located at 39 Pine St. Ground was broken Sept. 23, 2008, and the official opening was held Sept. 12, 2009.
The new facility is nearly Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certified. The building is heated with propane-fired radiant heat. The carpet was made from recycled materials, and the entryway was made from recycled tires. The lighting fixtures have the capability to dim when a sensor detects a certain level of natural light.
What changes for the library have resulted from having a free-standing building?
“The demographics have increased,” Carpenter said. “When we were in the schools, we got all kinds of kids. Now all ages, all walks of life come in all the time. Also we have enough space for people to stay and enjoy the facilities. Also, before our shelves weren’t [Americans with Disabilities Act] compliant, and they are now.”
There’s a colorful children’s area with a puppet theater and bench constructed by carpenter Bob Lombardo. Orono artist Valerie Wallace painted the puppet theater and also a mural of storybook characters on the youth services wall.
The library is still used mostly in traditional ways, Carpenter said. The library is part of the Minerva inter-library loan system, with deliveries from 65 other libraries four times a week.
“That relieves the pressure to have everything here,” she explained. “It also allows libraries to specialize more. For instance, we have a great CD collection here.”
Electronic usage is steadily increasing. The library has no dedicated space for computer usage, so instead patrons use 11 laptops at comfortable seating throughout the facility. Also available are downloadable eBooks and audio books as well as movies and TV series on DVD.
The library has active children’s programming and literacy programs. Staffers are working on more programs for seniors. An example would be a proposed one-on-one tutoring program for seniors who want to become more computer savvy.
“We’re becoming the community center for the town, for people to meet, find resources, use computers,” Carpenter said.
Even with a new building, Carpenter still has a wish list for the future. Up first is landscaping that was cut to save money, in order to create outside space for patrons. She would also like a bigger community room to create a larger meeting space.
Carpenter is content with the collection space at the library, but would like to see more “people space.” The plans for the now 6,000-square-foot library would allow for additions at all four corners should funding become available.
So, for now, both the public and school libraries find themselves in better positions.
“The public now has its own space, and the school library took over that entire space,” Carpenter said. “So both ended up with more space.”
The Orono Public Library is open 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays, and 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays and is closed Sundays and Mondays. For more information, call (207) 866-5060 or visit http://library.orono.org.