HOLLIS — At the very beginning, the Hollis Center Library was barely a library at all.

In 1911, a group of Hollis residents started what was known as a “circulating library,” a loose network of readers with books housed in various nooks around town. Volumes were tucked away in people’s homes, a grocery store, a dry goods outfit and the Knights of Pythias Hall, and those who wanted to get their hands on a certain book would have to track it down in one of these scattered locations. It was hardly an efficient system, but enough to keep alive their passions for the printed word.

In 1913, the Hollis Center Library was officially incorporated. For those keeping score at home, that’s exactly 100 years ago.

Nowadays, readers in Hollis have it far easier. Seated at the intersection of two major routes, the Hollis Center Library is centralized, modern and convenient ”“ one-stop shopping for books, DVDs, free Internet access and a children’s room stocked with crafts and colorful puppets.

And with a full century of history under its belt, those outside of town are taking notice. On June 8, a special ceremony was held at the library to celebrate its centennial, featuring comments from Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, as well as state Rep. Don Marean of District 131.

“For a little library like this, it obviously tickles people’s memories,” said Barbara Sheahan, a member of its board of trustees. “The little celebration we had exceeded everybody’s expectations. I think everybody has those memories, especially if you grew up in rural Maine.”

For one woman who attended the ceremony, many of those memories came bubbling to the surface. Writing an email to the library and identifying herself as “Lisa,” she recalled the hours she had spent there with her son when he was a child, just learning to read and yearning for the kind of adventure only a whimsical children’s tale could provide. As Lisa became lost in a thicket of memories, and listened to the stories shared by other patrons, she made her way upstairs and came face-to-face with her first-grade teacher from Hollis Elementary School ”“ the woman who had helped Lisa learn to read when she herself was doe-eyed and young.

It was a meeting that brought her full circle, and may not have happened had it not been for the common bond of love for the library.

“It was quite a story that was told downstairs (that day) in our little library,” said Lisa in her email. “Not everyone has a hometown library like ours.”

Maureen Cole has been hearing stories like that since 1979.

That’s when Cole took over as library director, which was originally a volunteer position. At the helm for more than three decades, it was under Cole’s leadership that the library took its greatest leaps into the future. In 1984, it secured its first electric typewriter; the following year, it obtained running water, a toilet and a telephone. In 1987, the library’s lower level ”“ which many passersby don’t realize is even there ”“ was outfitted into a children’s room.

In 1996, computers and Internet access were offered for the first time. Now, the library’s catalog is available online, and patrons can also download e-books and audiobooks for their digital devices.

Cole’s dedication is natural, considering her lifelong love of libraries.

“I’ve always been in libraries, wherever I’ve lived,” said Cole. “When you move to a town, you find your church, you find your library and you find out where you’re gonna get your groceries. That’s it.”

She describes the Hollis Center Library as “the community’s living room.”

“When people go stir-crazy, they need to look at a different set of walls,” she said, and Cole has done everything she can to make that community feel welcome. The February and Summer Reading Programs actively engage young people in literature, while families take their smaller children to Monday Morning Preschool Storytime to delve into music, books and crafts.

Cole keeps crafts available at all times, just in case someone wants to pop in and do one.

“The library’s supposed to be open about 22 hours a week,” said Sheahan, “but she’s here like 50 hours. When people see Maureen’s car here, they know they can just come in.”

Even though Cole is busy fundraising, applying for grants and updating the library’s services on a continuing basis, she deflects much of the credit to the many volunteers who help keep the place hoppin’; spanning all ages, from the fresh-out-of-storytime youngsters to their silver-haired parents and grandparents, it’s a community library in the truest sense.

The activity, said Cole, keeps the library relevant. And she remains positive in her outlook for the next 100 years.

“We don’t want to be a museum, where we just shelve books,” she said. “We want to be active.”

It’s all about knowing what people want, said Sheahan.

“As long as the library’s responsive to the people,” she said, “that’s where they’re gonna go.”

— Staff Writer Jeff Lagasse can be contacted at 282-1535, Ext. 319 or [email protected]bune.com.

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