In honor of National Library Week, here’s a post we did as a group way back when MCW was young. The sentiment still holds–writers love libraries. We love our local libraries, we love the libraries we visit, and we love the librarians who converse with us through the blog, on Facebook, at mystery conferences like the Maine Crime Wave, and at gatherings we’re attending. We welcome the chance to talk with readers. For many of us, libraries were the temples and/or refuges of our youth and helped us keep our noses buried in books.
(And note: one lucky commenter on one of this week’s blogs will win a bag of mysteries)
Kaitlyn Dunnett: I made the mistake of making the following suggestion: how about writers and
libraries as a group topic? We could relate funny/good experiences, talk about some of the neat-looking buildings around the state, and maybe make a plug to “support your local library.” The immediate response to this from our resident guru (that would be Kate) was “Feel free to start that post with a story.” I immediately went blank. I can’t even count the number of Maine libraries I’ve visited, on my own or as part of a Sisters In Crime panel. There are lots of lovely memories. Unfortunately, I’m not always sure which memories go with which library. This is doubly embarrassing because Maine libraries often have unique features. Patrons have to walk across a bridge over a stream to reach the Wilton Free Public Library, which backs up against a cliff on the other side. Once or twice, it has been completely cut off by high water. I did one of my very first book signings there, way back in 1985 when my first novel, The Mystery of Hilliard’s Castle (w/a Kathy Lynn Emerson for ages 8-12 and published by Down East Books) came out. Here’s a picture taken that day, back when my hair was brown instead of gray. Another unique library is the Friend Memorial Public Library in Brooklin, Maine, a center of boat building. Those same boat builders constructed shelves that slide back out of the way to create an open space for programs. Many of our small Maine libraries sponsor reading groups as well as inviting authors to speak. I’ve met several times with the mystery readers’ group at the library in Rumford and always have a wonderful time.
Okay, that’s a start on good thoughts about Maine libraries. What stories do the rest of you have to tell?
Lea Wait: Maine is the kind of state where you don’t tear down or throw out. You re-use. So some of my favorite libraries had former lives. The Wiscasset Library was once headquarters of the 19th century Lincoln and Kennebec Bank; the original vault is still in the basement. The Winslow Public Library had its start as a roller skating rink; the center of the rink is now a wonderful oval children’s department. The Thomaston Library was once an elementary school. And, of course, too many libraries to be counted started their lives as large elegant homes.
Sarah Graves: While thinking about what to say here, I realized that my relationship with libraries large and small, public and private, is one of the longest and strongest relationships in my life. From the tiny three-rooms-above-the-fire-station in Pewaukee, Wisconsin through the wonders of government and university collections and now back to Eastport, Maine’s excellent Peavey Library, I’ve relied upon them for all kinds of things. Information, of course, and entertainment…but also for peace of mind, that sense that here is something worth having and saving for all of us, and I’m not the only one who thinks so. And for humility…because there’s nothing like the sight of the book that was the Big New Thing in 1955 to lend perspective to whatever my little writing-tale-of-woe happens to be that day.
Kaitlyn: I doubt there’s room enough here to mention all the libraries that have done good things for Maine writers over the years. The public libraries in Portland and Bangor are large but writer-friendly. I still have the tee-shirt from a panel Kate Flora and I and some others did there eons ago. It says: “Solve a Mystery . . . Read.” The Maine State Library in Augusta has a collection of books by Maine authors. In addition, the librarians there are always willing to help with research. The library also offers free access to MARVEL, which provides the text of articles online. I use Mantor Library at the University of Maine at Farmington regularly for research and keep the inter-library loan staff very busy every time I start a new book. With a courtesy card from that branch, I can request books online from anywhere in the University of Maine system (URSUS) and from other libraries connected to it through MAINECAT. The little libraries are great for research, too, especially in local history and genealogy. They can all order inter-library loans. And many of them function as mini-museums, too, with permanent exhibits of items of local historical interest. Even with budget cuts, most rural Maine libraries still manage to provide all kinds of extras to patrons, everything from computer access to photocopying services. And, of course, books.
Gerry Boyle: What would we do without libraries and librarians, the best “handsellers” in the book business? From Biddeford to Portland to Bangor and beyond, I’ve always enjoyed my visits with library patrons. But I must say my favorite is the Albert Church Brown Memorial Library in China Village. Where I live. Where I was, for many years, president of the board of trustees. Now I’m the guy who lovingly mows the library lawn.
I’ve spoken a couple of times at “my” library but I must say it always seems a bit odd. The patrons mostly know me as a neighbor and friend, somebody to chat with at the post office or the transfer station. So when I go and read from one of my books or sign books there it seems kind of pretentious. When I ask for questions, I expect somebody to say, “Gerry. Good to see you here. When are you going to return my wrench?”
That said, our village library, like others, is a mystery lovers haven. A room full of titles, new and old. I can take out a yellowed John Creasey or the newest release. I can ask Mary Grow, the librarian, what she recommends. She’ll tell me what she thinks, the feedback she’s getting, whether she thinks I’ll like it. When I finish a book, I not only return it, I give my unofficial review.
So when a reader says, “Sorry, I don’t buy your books. I get them at the library,” I don’t complain. These are places where the reading is the thing.
Barb Ross: I’ve been to the Friend Memorial, too. On a panel with Katherine Hall Page, Valerie Wolzien and Wiscasset’s Janet Morgan. What a gem! My library gigs, in Maine and throughout New England have been great. Many librarians could give many booksellers lessons in how to manage an event, in my opinion. How’s that for a grand generalization and a controversial statement to boot?
Kate Flora: My first job was as the librarian’s assistant at the Vose Library in Union. It meant I was second in line, after the librarian, for the new Victoria Holt, Phyllis Whitney, and Mary Steward romantic suspense novels. Among my memorable experiences at Maine libraries I have to put a very special night at the McArthur Public Library in Biddeford, with Lea Wait and Ruth McCarty. It wasn’t just that the librarians were so kind and friendly, nor that the crowd that night (and it WAS a crowd–our Maine librarians are good at giving us an audience) was so receptive and asked such intriguing questions. It was the refreshments. I’ve posted this photograph on a number of occasions, because it is such a prize, and it has inspired many another library to do the same.
And no one can say our librarians lack ingenuity and creativity. See the cake the Freeport Community Library provided for a crime story/Poe’s Birthday event. And the Camden Public Library did themselves proud with an entire buffet of mystery treats for a panel that Gerry, Jim and I did there.
My “home” library, of course, is the Vose Library, in Union. It’s where I had my first job, helping the librarian after school. And where they’ve invited me to participate a few times in their annual “Soup and Suspense mystery event.
And of course, while the list could go on and on, since visiting Maine libraries is one of my favorite “pastimes,” I cannot end this (though I know this group will be back to the subject of libraries many times) without mentioning Carol Briggs, a serious author supporter at the Curtis Library in Brunswick, and Charlene Clemons, at the Ellsworth, Maine library, who has declared herself my biggest fan. I wonder if people realize how much such a declaration means?
Julia Spencer-Fleming: My local library, the Salmon Falls Library, is typical of what you find in many of Maine’s rural areas. It’s reused from an older building (in this case, the first kindergarten in the Buxton/Hollis area, donated to the town by its most famous author, Kate Douglas Wiggins.) It’s open about 20 hours a week and has one paid employee, the director. (She also acts as children’s librarian, acquisitions director, programming manager, etc., etc.) The wonderful thing is, there are three other libraries serving the two towns; West Buxton, Hollis Center and Berry Memorial. Between them, area residents have the same choices and hours that library-goers in the city enjoy.
I support my library as a volunteer and as a donor. I also recently became the President of the Friends, by virtue of being the last one to arrive at the annual meeting. Finally, I’m the Salmon Falls Library’s Writer-in-Residence, which means I get the key and can work there when the place isn’t open to the public. Since it’s the only place around with air conditioning, I’m there quite a lot in July and August!
Kaitlyn: One last comment from me. Support your local library. Volunteer. Check out old favorites from the stacks, since whether or not they are culled depends upon how recently they were read. And donate books (in good condition) that you’ve read and don’t need to keep. Even if they aren’t added to the library collection, they can help raise funds at library book sales.
Kate adds: Also donate videos, audio books, and music. Even if the library can’t use your offering, clever librarians like our own John Clark, the librarian in Hartland, can turn those into cash to support the collection.
From all of us: Authors visits, and author panels, are a great way to connect library patrons who are avid mystery readers with their favorite authors and introduce them to authors they may not have discovered. Events like Death and Desserts or Soup and Suspense engage the patrons who make the soup or deadly desserts, and make a talk an event.