Working behind the circulation desk at the Old Town Public Library are (from left) Meahgan King, Cassandra Arey, Lynn Uhlman, Samantha Ryan and director Cynthia Jennings.
OLD TOWN — When compared to other public libraries, the building at 46 Middle St. seems spacious and attractive.
That hasn’t happened by accident, according to Cynthia Jennings, the library’s director since 2007. “We’ve worked hard to create places that encourage people to come and stay,” Jennings said. “Our library looks warm and inviting. It’s more of a destination than a pick-up and drop-off spot.”
That wasn’t always the case. For about the first century of its 120 years, the library was a place where books and people couldn’t comfortably interact. As librarian Frances Folsom wrote in 1932, “It was not only impossible to seat the people, but standing room was quite inadequate for comfort.”
All that changed when the Tabitha Spruce King Wing opened in 1991, taking the space from 4,000 to its current 12,000 square feet.
This expansion was thanks to a $750,000 Challenge Grant from former Old Town resident King and a successful fund-raising effort led by former librarian Valerie Osborne and Howard “Bucky” Merrill.
The result is a library with room to evolve.
The children’s area is housed in the former Carnegie wing of the library, while the adult collections fill the new King wing.
There’s even a downstairs which houses meeting spaces, a technical services area, display spaces now filled with mug and doll collections and a periodicals room.
During the summer, the library expands outdoors, with the Fairy, Four Directions and Water gardens. “We want to totally encircle the library in gardens,” Jennings said.
The materials offered at the library are diverse, she added.
“We try to have a broad spectrum of materials,” Jennings said. “We do have large audio books, mysteries and Christian fiction collections. We’ve worked hard to streamline our purchasing, taking suggestions from our patrons and purchasing what they want to read.”
In addition to what’s on the shelves, inter-library loan books arrive five days a week.
Then there’s electronic options, such as the seven public-access computers, downloadable Ebooks and audio books, DVDs and CDs.
The staff has created programming for all age groups. There’s Toddler Time, Story Hour and Club Discovery for children and the Book & Movie Reading Program, Book Group and monthly Tuesday Forum for adults. There’s seasonal programming that cuts across all ages, such as the summer Concerts in the Park.
In tough economic times, libraries become busier places: “People turn to libraries for entertainment, job searches, and information,” Jennings said.
At the same time, the library had undergone budget cuts: “We’re trying to keep up our growth despite those cuts,” Jenning added.
The town believes in the library.
“People have always been very supportive of the library,” Jennings said. “We’re a busy place. We serve as a focal point of the community. The library is a jewel we’re fortunate to have.”
The library’s hours are 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays’ and 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays. For more information, call 827-3972 or visit old-town.lib.me.us.