[Published in the Bangor Daily News]

By Bill Trotter

If all goes according to plan, the local community library in Brooklin, Maine hopes to raise its profile beyond the commuting distance of the coastal town’s scenic village.

Friend Memorial Public Library, founded in 1912, has long been a place for residents and visitors to check out children’s books, novels and autobiographies. It is where young children and parents come for story time, artists can show their work, and hobbyists with photography or knitting groups can gather to exchange tips and information.

But, with a planned expansion, it’s also likely to draw in a larger set of enthusiasts: Those who want to read up on wooden boat design, construction and maintenance.

Staff members Sadie Cooley (seated) and Catherine Nevin of Friend Memorial Public Library in Brooklin, Maine look up information on a computer at the library’s circulation desk on Friday, May 17, 2024. The library is raising money for a planned expansion that will allow it to add thousands of volumes from the Wooden Boat School to its collection. Credit: Bill Trotter / BDN

Jon Wilson, founder of the well-regarded, Brooklin-based WoodenBoat magazine, is donating thousands of volumes that he compiled over decades to the Brooklin library to be housed in a new maritime research center. All the organization needs is a place to keep them so people, whether local or from far away, can learn more about the main thing that Brooklin is known for.

“In our community, we teach wooden boat building in elementary school,” said Robert Baird, chair of the library’s capital campaign committee. “Brooklin is really the wooden boat capital of the world.”

In 2022, Wilson sold the magazine, and the seasonal boat building school that sprang up from the publication, to its two top managers, Matthew Murphy and Andrew Breece. But Wilson retained ownership of the books and reference materials some of them quite rare — that the business had collected since its founding in 1974.

Those books and other items — more than 6,000 volumes in all — remain at the WoodenBoat campus off Naskeag Point Road, but under lock and key, and not readily available for public consumption. The magazine and its seasonal boat building education program remain vibrant, but as the enterprise has expanded more into the digital world and in-person instruction, its need for the collection has waned.

Still, Baird said there remains strong demand for the knowledge contained in the collection among wooden boat builders and enthusiasts. There are at least seven wooden boat-building companies in Brooklin, he said, and keeping the collection in town, where it will be publicly accessible, will benefit both them and residents.

An “OPEN” flag hangs outside the Friend Memorial Public Library in Brooklin, Maine, on Friday, May 17, 2024. A frameshowing a rough outline of the facade of a proposed addition can be seen through a gap in the sign. Credit: Bill Trotter / BDN
An “OPEN” flag hangs outside the Friend Memorial Public Library in Brooklin, Maine, on Friday, May 17, 2024. A frame showing a rough outline of the facade of a proposed addition can be seen through a gap in the sign. Credit: Bill Trotter / BDN

“All of the boat shops will have daily access to the library,” Baird said. “It’s going to totally transform our little library in Brooklin.”

The donation by Wilson is not the only collection that will be housed in the library’s maritime research center. Earlier this year award-winning photographer Benjamin Mendlowitz contributed his collection of 155,000 slides of wooden sailing yachts, many of them published over decades in his Calendar of Wooden Boats and in multiple magazines, to the library.

With Wilson’s donation, the 2,200 square-foot library will have to roughly double in size in order to create the maritime research center for housing the collection, Baird said. The library has come up with a sketch plan for an annex where the collection will be kept, but is looking to raise at least $2.5 million to build the addition and increase its endowment.

Baird said the library’s board already had been looking at a renovation to modernize the building’s heating and ventilation systems, and to address overdue maintenance issues, when it learned that the former WoodenBoat collection needed a new home.

When Wilson offered the collection to the library, the board solicited plans from Elliott Architects in Blue Hill for an annex that would connect to the west side of the existing building, Baird said. A simple, full-size flat frame of boards that shows what the annex facade will look like now stands next to the library as a preview for what’s to come.

The plans also call for a paved parking lot on the east side of the library, via an easement on a neighboring property, and surrounding landscaping. A pergola and courtyard for hosting outdoor events would be built behind the existing building, and could connect to the local elementary school via a path through the woods, he said.

Baird said there has been good local support so far for the proposed research addition, which one donor has proposed be named after Maynard Bray, a maritime historian and longtime technical editor for WoodenBoat. He said that the library has not yet started a public fundraising campaign but, with the addition of WoodenBoat’s collection as part of its plans, he is “very confident” it will receive broad financial support.

“I think it will go,” Baird said. “I’m hoping by the end of the summer we’ll be well on our way.”