It’s Not Your Grandmother’s Library Anymore

farmin13Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here, with a little story to tell you. Part of my regular morning reading is the online Franklin County newspaper, the Daily Bulldog. Imagine me sitting in my chair, curled up with my iPad, and clicking on the newspaper icon to find that the day’s lead story is about a coffee bar opening up IN A LIBRARY!!!

After I wiped the coffee off the gorilla glass, I read the article, my eyes getting bigger and bigger all the while. You can read it for yourself at but the gist of it is that Mantor Library at the University of Maine at Farmington has been making some changes. Boy have they ever!

In the mid-1980s, I worked at Mantor Library as a Library Assistant at Circulation. Part of my job was to confiscate food and drink brought into the library by students. That was a big no-no—almost a crime—because spilled coffee and food equals ruined books. You’d think, with the coming of computers, where expensive electronics can be damaged by spilled coffee, that this rule would be even more stringently enforced. Instead . . . coffee bars.

images2MWJFJAQI should have seen it coming. After all, another part of my job was to type the information on card catalog cards into this gigantic computer that fed the information into the system that eventually became URSUS, an online card catalog serving all the University of Maine campuses.

In the 1980s, as you entered the library, circulation was on the left and on the right was a glassed-in area that was first a reading room and later a computer center—back when taking a class in computer programming and learning FORTRAN was considered necessary to use such newfangled contraptions. The next remodeling moved the computers to their own building, circulation to the right of the entrance, and put a reading room to the left. Now that reading room, and the area where my desk used to be, is—you guessed it!—the coffee bar. That’s not the only change. The reference room, where I spent many many hours when I was not working, is now the Student Learning Common, offering clinics, tutoring, workshops, and computers as well as a place to study.

Agnes Mantor, librarian after whom Mantor Library was named

Agnes Mantor, librarian after whom Mantor Library was named

I am assured that there are still three floors of books.

volunteering at Treat Library, Livermore Falls, in 2012

volunteering at Treat Library, Livermore Falls, in 2012

Truth be told, it turns out that I’m more of a dinosaur than I realized. According to Vaughan Gagne, manager of administrative services, Mantor Library is coming late to the practice of putting coffee bars (which also sell bagels, muffins, juices, yogurt, and fruit) in academic libraries. Who knew? She also tells me that the ban on food and drink in the library was lifted a long time ago. These days, I use Mantor Library for research, especially when I need an inter-library loan, but I guess I haven’t been paying much attention when I sail in, check out a book or two, chat with the good folks at the front desk, and zip back to my semi-illegally parked car.

Librarian ShushingAnother newspaper report, this one in the Lewiston Sun Journal, talked about the reasons for the changes—“to keep students actively using the library.” Changes already put in place have apparently doubled traffic at Mantor over the last year. I know that’s good. Library positions tend to be among the first to go when budgets are cut, but there’s still a part of me that longs for the good old days when the emphasis was on physical books. I miss the old-fashioned card catalogs. I also miss the silence. You see, children, once upon a time, back when food and drink were also against the rules, the shushing librarian wasn’t just a cartoon stereotype.

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4 Responses to It’s Not Your Grandmother’s Library Anymore

  1. Gram says:

    In our small town library ages ago, our librarian tip-toed and whispered. Even if no one else was in the building!

  2. Anne Mosey says:

    I also miss the days when a library dealt primarily with books, but I wouldn’t bring back the card catalog for anything! I spent 4 years filing those little cards and helping to maintain that monster! Now I am a one person catalog department and can maintain the catalog from my desk.

  3. Linda Meadows says:

    We stopped banning food and drink in the Topsham Public Library (Maine) years ago, and no one has ruined a computer yet. People tend to use containers with lids and are very careful. We also have family movie nights on a big screen and serve popcorn. Nobody whispers either.

  4. Gram, Anne, and LInda,
    Thanks for your comments. I’m beginning to think I’m more of an old fuddy-duddy than I thought. I have a feeling some of this topic is going to show up in the 10th Liss MacCrimmon (next to be written) in which there are going to be several scenes in the Moosetookalook Public Library. That was created out of pure nostalgia, by the way, based on the library in my home town in New York State as it was when I was a kid. That library was replaced by a new building decades ago, but it’s still the library of my childhood that I think of first when I think of libraries. I checked out as many books at a time as I could and when I’d read just about everything in the children’s section, I was allowed to select titles from the grown-up books.

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