One of the best aspects of the Maine Library community is the willingness of people who have unique skills to step up and push the library world forward. I’ve had the distinct pleasure of knowing and working with several of them. Tom Abbott, Dean of Library Services at the University of Maine at Augusta, along with the Late Walter Taranko, were responsible for bringing the University of South Carolina’s Masters in Library Services degree program to Maine in 1995, changing forever the landscape by creating an opportunity for hundreds of Maine citizens to get a degree that before that time was only available out of state. Walter was also the man who introduced me to the amazing world of resource sharing, something I’ve raised to an art form.
Karl Beiser did more to drop kick the library systems in Maine into the world of technology than any three other people. If you’ve used an online catalog or borrowed something through MaineCat, thank Karl. He was responsible for most of what’s under the hood that makes finding, lending and borrowing items such a seamless process for Maine residents.
When three of us in central Maine wrote a grant to create an open source library system to serve libraries in Penobscot, Piscataquis and Somerset Counties, we floundered because all of us were too blasted busy running our libraries to be able to figure out how to get the consortium off the ground. Enter Chris Maas, retired law firm consultant. He stepped in and has invested an incredible amount of time finding a support guy, negotiating with various hosting services and figuring out why certain things refuse to play nice. It’s fair to say, the Maine Balsam Libraries Consortium would still be floundering if it wasn’t for his willingness to step in and help. I asked Chris to write up something about himself and how he got involved. We had intended it for National Library Week, but were unable to do so, hence it appearing today. So, without further ado, meet Chris Maas.
Chris and his wife at an Easter celebration in Bangor
I owned a technology consulting group in Washington D.C. until I retired and moved to Dover-Foxcroft with my wife in 2007. I loved the work and working with law firms all over the world. While demanding, law firms proved to be very value oriented. Once they understood the value of technology in their firms, they were generally willing to pay the price (both time and effort) to implement it properly. Over the years, I grew to have a great deal of respect for the industry and the role that that profession plays in a civil society. (I used to say “if you want to see what life would be like without lawyers, move to Russia”).
As much as we appreciated living in big cities all of our lives, when it came time to retire, we looked for an old house in a quiet place with no traffic. Since, of all the places we had lived, we had never lived in New England, we thought that mid-Maine would serve us well – and it has. Both my wife Karen and I have always been readers, our new town had to have a good library. We found that in Dover-Foxcroft – not just the collections, but the programs and the excellent staff. Within a year the librarian, Helen Fogler, knowing of my technology background asked for help in implementing a new web based computer system under the terms of a grant that a group of libraries in mid-Maine had recently received. I joined forces with John Clark (who filled in my gaps in knowledge of libraries and technology). We settled on an open-source product which has, to date, served our needs well. In about eighteen months, we were able to get the system up and running and the first library in full circulation. Now, three years later, we have about 20 libraries (with a total of about 30 branches) up and running. Almost all of this work was done with volunteer labor. It’s been an absolute joy working with the public, school and academic librarians in this consortium (Even though never once in my prior career did I tell a lawyer joke, I do often say that my reward for having worked with lawyers for forty years, is that in my retirement I get to work with librarians!).
Living in a small New England town is democracy at its core – both the good, the irritating and the amusing. In Washington, I used to attend hearings and congressional sessions where they discussed pressing issues of national importance. While interesting and informative, I never felt that I could make much of a difference. In our new home, I found pleasure in attending the regular meetings of the town’s select board. The issues were certainly different, but the process as much more collegial – and I found that my voice was heard and I could make a difference. I particularly remember the session where the most important issue on the town’s agenda was revisions to the town’s chicken ordinance (only 6 hens permitted in the village – and no roosters). Lots of discussion about whether the ordinance should be extended to ducks, geese and other avian creatures. Who wouldn’t want to live in a town where this is the biggest problem?
My wife, worried about me hanging about the house all day, advised me to “do something useful”. There is no end of opportunities to do useful things in a community such as this. I’ve worked with the local historical society, the school board, the zoning and planning board, the town’s budget committee, several non-profit organizations and on a special project to save the old “Central Hall”. Tons to do, and you can make a difference. (“I woke up this morning with nothing to do, and went to bed without half of it getting done!).
But there is always time to read. I doubt that my wife and I, in fifty years of marriage, have failed to spend at least an hour each day reading. She has her authors and I have mine. Over the years, our “favorites” have changed often. In my case, I find myself returning often to George Orwell and to H.L. Mencken. In Orwell’s case, I find a clarity and steadfastness in seeking truth in a complex world. The opening chapters of “The Road to Wiggan Pier” is probably the most honest depiction of real labor (down in a coal mine) that was ever penned. Everyone who enters politics – at any level – should be forced to read “Politics and the English Language”. In fact, I think the Republic would be better served if they dispensed with the daily prayer that opens congressional sessions and replaced it with random members of congress reading selections from “Politics and the English Language”. We may not be better governed, but at least we would have a better understanding of how we are governed.
H.L. Mencken opens different doors for me. He was a newspaper editor and literary critic who was often out of step with the fashions of the time – both in politics, culture and literary affairs. Mencken wrote in the period after the First World War at a time of great disillusionment. As he said, people fought for a new day – and all they came home to was A. Mitchell Palmer, Harding, Coolidge and Prohibition. We seem to be living, once again, through such times. It is instructive to know that we have survived these times before and we probably will again.
Mencken was an early champion of authors such as Dreiser and Edith Wharton. In reading his essays, I’ve come across other long forgotten, authors such as Joseph Hergesheimer and Arnold Bennett. In some cases, these guys are justly forgotten from a literary standpoint, but any student of the late 19th and early 20th century would find that they add color and detail to that period that one would never get out of the history books. I once had an influential history teacher who said “If you REALLY want to know an era in history, you must read its literature”. I am thankful for Mencken for providing the links to these authors. (And thanks to Helen’s library, many of these books are still on her shelves – in the basement to be sure, but they are still there!).
I couldn’t ask for a better retirement. And working with all of my librarian friends has been the highlight of my second life.
I love meeting these people through your blogs, John. And today was outstanding. I’ve already adopted the quote about waking up with nothing to do and going to bed with it half done. It describes so many of our lives.
And he’s right…living in a town lets you be involved in a very real way.