WHITEFIELD — It all started when 7-year-old Quinn Conroy wrote a letter to the Whitefield Select Board asking her to consider setting up a library in town.
Conroy, now a high school student, wanted something to do during the summer when he wasn’t in school.
Sue McKeen was a board member when Conroy’s letter arrived in 2016 and is now chair of the Whitefield Library Association board.
For community members, Conroy’s idea was one that many residents had supported for some time, given that Whitefield and the surrounding communities did not have a public library.
“Sometimes the best ideas are put into action by something as small as this,” McKeen said. “Putting that No. 2 pencil to paper and sending it to the selection committee – that’s how it all started.”
Volunteers got to work and now – this weekend – the Whitefield Library and Community Center is set to open at 1 Arlington Lane from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday and Saturday, after nearly two years of renovations.
The library opened in the summer of 2017 and closed for the winter because it did not have a proper heating system.
It reopened the following summer, with more books and more volunteers, and became a nonprofit organization under Maine State Library regulations.
In 2018, the Arlington Grange, where the library is located in the basement, was unable to maintain the building and sold it to the library for $25,000, paid for with a grant from the Kennebec Saving Bank.
Eventually, McKeen said, the floor of the building is to be used as a community center for meetings, art exhibits, and perhaps small theatrical performances on the barn stage. For now, however, the library is to be open year-round after installing a proper heating system and completing renovations for the building to become an official library.
McKeen credited volunteers and donations for helping Whitefield Library evolve over the past two years, during which it underwent renovations. She said about 80 people on the mailing list are involved with the library and about 30 volunteers work in various ways to support the facility.
From May to November 2021, Martha Tait cataloged over 6,000 books in a computer system to track library books and their value. Since the library does not yet have an official librarian running it, volunteers, including Tait, have stepped up to learn.
Tait said that before cataloging books electronically, the library cataloged them “the old fashioned way,” with stamps, labels and book sleeves, but didn’t know what the library had in its collection.
“We all had to start from scratch,” Tait said. “The book committee was only five people and we had little experience. We learned from scratch. It was a big learning curve, but we did it and learned a lot.
Tait, who came out of retirement to help, said it felt like a “successful goal of opening the doors to the public”.
The “Geezer Gang”, as some volunteers call themselves, consists of five to 10 people over the age of 70 who have helped with the restoration throughout the two years. McKeen said they showed up whenever needed and donated time, materials and hard work.
“It’s really amazing,” McKeen said. “At a time when no one can find volunteers, these people got together in this town to do this thing, and often they were running around with masks in 95 degree weather (or) when it was freezing cold and they are walking again. They still have a little work to do.
Cheryle Joslyn from Whitefield said she raised her children in the city and wanted a library, dating back to the 1970s and 1980s when her children were young. She was part of McKeen’s first group of volunteers and later joined the “Geezer Gang” for the restoration process.
Joslyn’s goals were to help the library grow, increase services, and have a library technician to manage the building.
“It’s a wonderful feeling of accomplishment,” she says. “It brings great joy, it’s something we can do for the community of Whitefield and all the surrounding neighborhoods as well. Alna, Pittston, Jefferson and Windsor, who don’t have a library, are welcome to use it, and it’s a great feeling.
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