Hometown Library: Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick, Maine

By Shannon Viola

This post is the first in a proposed series on the libraries in which SIS students grew up reading and nurturing their love for Information Science. If you are a SIS student who would like to write about your hometown library, send your post to shannon.viola@mail.mcgill.ca to be featured on Beyond the Shelf. 

Brunswick is a small town nestled in the nooks and crannies of the midcoast Maine coastline. Once a mill town and now a thriving small town community, Brunswick is home to artists, Bowdoin College students, and those who love the Maine wilderness. 

I grew up in Brunswick and return during SIS breaks, and when I am home, I always stop at Curtis Memorial Library. The library building consists of the old library, completed in 1904, that has a cozy atmosphere with its grandfather clock, fireplace, and shelves of art history books. The old library is connected to a larger building from 1999 that contains the majority of the library’s collection. I have been checking out books at Curtis since I was a student at St. John’s Catholic School. Because our school did not have its own library, we walked to Curtis to check out two books a week. As a high schooler, I earned volunteer hours shelving books at Curtis and spent afternoons after school reading by the fireplace. As an undergrad and Masters student, I stop by Curtis to finish assignments and read current issues of Time, or to hemorrhage my bank account at Twice Told Tales, the secondhand bookstore founded by Curtis. 

While the Curtis website offers a multitude of information about the library, I interviewed Wynter Giddings, the Manager of Technology and Training, in order to get a deeper understanding of how some of the ideas I’ve learned at SIS operate in a real-world public library. 

In some aspects, Curtis is a typical public library: free wireless, Young Adult and Children’s collections, e-readers available for borrowing, and genealogical records. Yet Ms. Giddings emphasized that community participation is what sets Curtis apart from other libraries in MidCoast Maine. Because of volunteers, the library has been able to conduct outreach to Harpswell, a smaller town bordering Brunswick, to assisted living and senior living facilities, and to the junior high school. Ms. Giddings, as the Manager of Technology and Training, visits a senior living facility with a colleague once a month to teach tech skills, in addition to providing drop-in tech help during the week. 

The reading room in the 1904 library building. Image source.

Community members are able to join Curtis Contemporaries, a patron group that supports advocacy and library stewardship. The Curtis Contemporaries collaborate with library staff to plan events, such as choosing the books for Books and Brews, a library book group hosted at a local brewery, and financially supporting the Collaboratory, an interactive exhibition space at Curtis. A tremendous amount of volunteers who donate time, money, and materials allow Curtis to serve a wider audience with creative solutions to their information needs. 

Serving the Brunswick community also means supporting local artists and writers. Curtis displays books from local writers prominently in the sitting area of the lobby and has a room dedicated to exhibiting works from local artists. The library is decorated with maritime oil paintings and wood relief carvings, and art installations from the Brunswick community. 

Additional Brunswick-specific collections include the Genealogy Room, which provides local histories, directories, and a snow index, and other materials for researchers. Curtis, in collaboration with the Bowdoin College Library and Patten Free Library in Bath, Maine, preserves the Times Record, the Brunswick area newspaper, on microfilm, since the newspaper does not archive their material. Even though Curtis is involved with the digital preservation of the Times Record, the Pejepscot Historical Society and the Bowdoin College Library are involved with the bulk of Brunswick history preservation. 

Curtis even involved the community when they were revamping their strategic planning in 2015. An in-person and online campaign called “10 Days, 100 Great Ideas,” prompted patrons to submit their own ideas for Curtis. At the end of those 10 days, 1,000 ideas were collected, and these ideas were included in the strategic planning process. Free Coffee Fridays and technology support were suggested by the community and implemented by Curtis. 

This focus on community participation is what earned Curtis the title of “Best Library in Maine” by Down East Magazine readers in 2017 and 2018. The library thanked the community for the recognition by hosting a cake and coffee reception. The symbiotic relationship between the library and its community make Curtis Memorial Library a role model for any public library. 

Thank you to Wynter Giddings for taking the time to answer my questions! 

To read more about Curtis Library, click here.

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