When was the last time you visited your local library?

Auburn Public Library in Auburn, ME | Courtesy of maineanencyclopedia.com


Article by: Ruthie Noble 
Member Lending Account Manager – CU Insurance Solutions 

When the internet burst onto the world two decades ago, some said libraries as we knew them, were doomed, but they adapted and continued to be essential in their communities.

Libraries evolved again in the middle of a world health crisis.  With doors locked and patrons isolated at home, librarians, known for their creativity, expanded efforts to keep people engaged and connected.  Streamed author talks were introduced; story times, cooking demonstrations, and language lessons were offered; tons of e-books, movies, TV shows, and pandemic-related resources became available.  Expectations have been raised and resources have broadened from this experience. However, in addition to all that, you still might be surprised to learn of the expanded, non-literary additions and services being offered to patrons ~ and at absolutely no cost to borrow!

In speaking with staff from each corner of the state, here are a few highlights as to what libraries are now offering:

  • Pittsfield Public is one of 10 libraries across the state taking part in the Health Connect pilot program that provides access to telehealth care services to their communities. Dedicated, private meeting space is equipped with entirely relevant technology for virtual appointments, consults, wellness visits, and counseling.
  • Both Lewiston Public Library and the Patten Free in Bath have several “American Girl” dolls to lend, each from a specific historical period, including a companion book and a full kit of accessories. In contrast, Lewiston also makes available a kilowatt electrical measuring kit to help homeowners determine current, voltage, and energy consumption.
  • Auburn Public, like Lewiston, subscribes to Mango, an award-winning, online language-learning program with dozens of adaptive lessons available. In addition to crafting kits, there is also a media lab for the digitization of photos and/or documents.
  • Topsham Public has fishing gear and binoculars.
  • McArthur Public in Biddeford has an impressive array of recreational gear to lend, including snowshoes, a volleyball set, pickleball, disc golf, bocce balls and croquet.
  • South Portland Public has a unique collection of framed original artwork, prints and photographs, with a broad mix of options ranging from nature, historical and contemporary pieces, all available to borrow. Seed Sharing has been introduced for patrons interested in planting home gardens.
  • Rockport Public has several ukuleles in their collection, ready to lend! If star gazing is your interest, along with Falmouth and Portland, there are also table-top telescopes available for check out.
  • Gardiner Public partners with the Boys & Girls club to offer free meals for kids during the summer months. Along with Waterville Public, patrons may borrow yard equipment such as pruners and trimmers, for example.
  • Skowhegan Public Library and Prince Memorial, serving Cumberland and North Yarmouth will lend an array of board games and puzzles. In the summer season, Prince invites families to gather for monthly movie nights.  Films are screened outdoors on the lawn, and free popcorn is available to viewers!
  • Caribou Public offers educational STEAM activities in various themes such as science, math, anatomy, geography, civics, nature, and even a Maine kit. Hand-held instruments such as cymbals, bells, and tambourines are found in the music kits.  A world globe is available to lend.  Patrons may swap and sell at the “Book Store”.
  • Mark & Emily Turner Memorial Public in Presque Isle offers on-site yoga classes and gathering space for Latin, chess, and knitting clubs. There is a café for snacks.  They feature a gallery of fine art pieces and offer guided tours.  The library also serves the public as a passport agent.
  • Bangor Public boasts 4 art galleries with unique and rotating exhibits. There is a Summer Music Series with live, on-site performances.  Cooking, photography, science, and other demonstrations of interest are offered.  The library hosts an annual spring-time plant swap.
  • Fort Fairfield Public offers free genealogy classes with direct links to favored internet sites.
  • New Gloucester Public will lend canoes and kayaks! They also boast an expansive cake pan collection for the creative baker.  Patrons are welcome to take or add to a centrally located, free, seasonal garden basket.

York Public and many other libraries I spoke with offer adventure backpacks designed for exploring specific local natural areas and come with trail maps, books, DVDs, and related equipment.   It was exciting to discover most offer state park and museum passes.  I also discovered some libraries belong to a network of Shared Lenders, thereby allowing cardholders to borrow materials from area participants with a single library relationship.

Several such as Pittsfield, Lewiston, Auburn, Thomas Memorial in Cape Elizabeth, and Merrill Memorial in Yarmouth partner with Kanopy, a video streaming service where thousands of movies, documentaries, foreign films, and classic cinema can be viewed for free on most any device – just create an account using your library card!

In addition to all of these broader programs, libraries continue to provide a quiet space with access to a wide variety of books, films, newspapers, and magazines as well as often offering free internet access.  It seems the mission of libraries evolves and remains relevant, as the needs of communities continue to evolve.  I hope this will provide you an incentive to visit your local library soon if you are “overdue”.