BROOKLIN — The Friend Memorial Public Library on Wednesday launched a $2.5 million capital campaign aimed at revitalizing its aging building as well as improving services, said campaign chairman and town Select Board member Bill Cohen.
“Few public libraries can boast the colorful past of the Friend Memorial Public Library,” Cohen stated in a press release. “Founded in the 1890s, important figures in the library’s history include a famous scientist who ran the Grand Canyon’s raging rapids in a rowboat, two iconic writers known for their influential work with the New Yorker magazine and three brothers who helped revolutionize the canning of baked beans.”
“Now, the library is aiming to add a new chapter to its storied history with a major fundraising campaign,” Cohen said. “Over the next 1.5 years, the library aims to raise $2.5 million to revitalize its aging building without altering its distinctive character, improve services to regional residents, and place the library — which depends on private donations to cover most of its annual operating costs — on a firmer financial foundation. The effort also aims to create a home for a unique, curated collection of books and materials on wooden boat building, a craft closely associated with Brooklin’s past and present.”
“Public libraries play a critical role in rural areas like ours by providing a place for people — young and old — to learn, to gather, and to share ideas,” said Ed DePasqual, president of the library’s board of directors. “This campaign aims to ensure that our library remains a vibrant community hub and, as it moves through its second century, meets the demands of the 21st century.”
The campaign, which resulted from an extensive multi-year strategic planning process undertaken by the library’s board and staff, has three main goals. One is to renew the library’s aging building, which opened in 1912. The structure needs new air handling equipment to tackle a growing mold problem fueled by Maine’s shifting climate. The creeping fungus threatens the library’s valuable collection of some 20,000 books and other materials collected over the past century.
A second goal is to create additional, more flexible space for collections, patrons and public events, both indoors and out.
“We often don’t have enough room for everyone who wants to attend our events, particularly in the busy summer months,” said Ann-Margaret Thomas, library director, who notes the library hosted more than 200 public events over the past three years. “And our children’s and teen spaces often aren’t big enough to hold programs without creating noise that can distract other patrons.”
Potential additions include more work desks for patrons who need access to computers, an additional bathroom, year-round accessible wheelchair ramps, more flexible workspaces for students and remote workers and an outdoor three-season pavilion.
Elliott Architects, the firm that designed the library’s award-winning renovation in 2000, has been engaged to develop concepts for the upgrades and expansion.
The library is also considering whether to create space for a remarkable collection of wooden boat materials amassed over 50 years by Jon Wilson, the founder of Brooklin’s WoodenBoat magazine and school.
“Brooklin has become one of the world’s most important centers for maintaining the art and craft of building wooden boats,” said Eden Cowart, chairperson of the library’s building committee. “By housing a curated piece of this extraordinary collection, the library can play an important role in supporting a noble and venerable craft that helps create local jobs and economic opportunities.”
A third goal is to strengthen the library’s fiscal footing by growing its existing endowment to continue to cover most of its annual operating costs.
“Although we are a free public library, the town of Brooklin provides less than 5 percent of our budget,” said David Porter, library treasurer. “A stronger endowment will ensure that the library remains fiscally sound and can hire and retain skilled staff.”
The library’s commitment to making improvements, board members say, is partly inspired by a vision articulated 60 years ago by Katharine White, a Brooklin resident who served on the library’s board and was a seminal figure in its development. In a 1963 letter, White, who was a longtime editor at The New Yorker and the spouse of noted author and New Yorker writer E.B. White, wrote: “A public library is not a static affair. Every year if it is not to retrogress, it must grow in service…”
“This is our answer to White’s call to adapt to changing times and always grow in service,” said DePasqual. “We want the library to remain an important contributor to community life, just as it was in Katharine White’s time.”
Katharine and E.B. White aren’t the only notable figures in the library’s past. The renowned scientist John Wesley Powell, who explored the Grand Canyon and spent his final years living near Brooklin, was among the library’s founders. And the library is named for Victor, Leslie and Robert Friend, brothers and library benefactors who made a fortune from developing a way to can scrumptious New England baked beans without compromising their flavor.
“Our region owes a debt to the many people who have helped make the Friend Memorial Public Library one of Maine’s finest community libraries,” said Cohen. “Now, it’s our turn to step up and do our part to help this public institution continue to thrive.”