In 1883, I would have been writing this piece for the now long defunct Brunswick Telegraph. That’s the earliest year documented that Brunswick citizens first made a concerted effort to found a town library. While this endeavor may have seemed uncertain in the early 1880s, the circumstances were ripe for creating an institution dedicated to public access to literary culture.

In a letter to the Telegraph published on Jan. 5, 1883, a writer identified as “A Subscriber” exhorted, “Very few persons are able to own all the books they wish to read. Mechanics and industrial workers wish to learn more of their crafts to better their positions. The schooling we can get is not enough for an education. … What better help … than access to a well-furnished library?” 

We know what happened after that. More and more Brunswick citizens publicly and privately expressed support for a town library. The then-editor of theTelegraph himself, A.G. Tenney, even got on the bandwagon, proclaiming that if the people of Richmond could do it, we could do it. And so, we did. The first Library Association of Brunswick was chartered in April 1883, and we haven’t looked back since. 

This year, the Curtis Memorial Library is celebrating its 140th year of serving our diverse communities. Director Liz Doucett’s recently published second volume of library history reminds us of the various functions it has held, but also where it can and will go. In 2023, aside from the well-stocked bookshelves, reading groups, and the like, one can find activities for children and adults ranging from genealogy get-togethers to games to films. There’s a Library of Things, from which library patrons can check out everything from an acoustic guitar to a mobile scanner to a yogurt maker. And there are many, many digital offerings, such as e-books and magazines, craft workshops, and language courses for those who prefer to partake at home or elsewhere. 

Our library is also planning an exciting exhibit of Robert McCloskey’s art this summer. McCloskey is well known to many of us for his enduring children’s books, such as “Make Way for Ducklings” and “Blueberries for Sal.” This year, we’ll be able to see the original illustrations in person, some of which are so fragile that this will be the last opportunity to view them in person.  

Of equal note is that Curtis Memorial Library will debut the first electric bookmobile in the state of Maine later this summer, rendering library services more accessible than ever before. The van, which has been funded by various grants, including the Manton Foundation and Curtis Friends, and an in-kind donation from Darling’s Brunswick Ford, will contain built-in book racks and removable carts, Wi-Fi, a retractable awning, café seating for outdoor pop-up programming, and more to offer year-round outreach in Brunswick and Harpswell.  

Doubtlessly, the original founders, not to mention William J. Curtis, who funded the now-venerable Pleasant Street building in 1903, would be delighted with the scope and offerings of today’s Curtis Memorial Library. Consider honoring their intentions during this anniversary year by finding your own route to 23 Pleasant St. in Brunswick. 

Lisa Botshon is chairperson of the Curtis Memorial Library Board of Directors. 

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