by Bob Bennett
As I believe most of we humans are aware, especially in these difficult times, change is inevitable. For the most part, the results of these events are positive, at least in the long run, and we look back with gratitude and acceptance. The South China Public Library is undergoing change to a great degree at this moment and those of us associated with this special organization are certain that ultimately, we will have an entity that will continue to provide the services to our community for which our library has been noted for nearly two centuries.
The verification of this “old age” is that the South China Public Library is the oldest continuously operating public library in the state of Maine. It was established in 1830 and its founders included members of the Jones family and other Quaker families. The library is also one of the oldest nonprofit organizations in the state, incorporated in 1912. The building presently in use by the library had its main section constructed in 1900 and the addition now housing the children’s room was built by volunteers in 1980.
Our historic, treasured building does not have bathroom facilities and we are not able to expand at the current site. Our central location has always made the library very accessible for the residents of South China and for its numerous summer visitors and seasonal residents. In addition, the library’s site directly across from the South China Community Church has allowed us to coordinate our annual fundraisers (until this year) such as the library’s book and pie sale and the church’s chicken barbecue and summer sale. This is a tradition we hope to continue, even with our relocation “around the corner.” These community interactions have always been at the heart of our existence.
The programs the library offers are in many ways our most vital services, and our children’s programs may best reflect this. Every summer for a number of years, we have offered a kid-oriented series of get-togethers, usually on Wednesday mornings, that spotlight local resources and presenters focusing on young people. These range from Mr. Drew and his amazing animals (he “zoomed” with our young patrons recently), to local fire departments stressing the importance of safety, and ice cream trucks, offering a “taste of the good life.”
These presentations, starting in late June after schools close and extending into the middle of August, are intended to bring young people together and to encourage reading and learning in the summer. Traditionally, the children’s room is packed as Mr. Drew’s unique critters crawl over willing listeners while he describes their lifestyles or fairy house builders present their construction techniques. We also occasionally host adult-oriented speakers and encourage public interaction and, of course, circulate many books, movies, and audiobooks and provide 24/7wireless internet access. In addition, reflecting our rather unique heritage, all of these activities are provided totally by volunteers supported by a board of directors consisting of local residents. All financial donations go to support the South China Library and its services. And in the last several years, much of those funds have been directed toward the new library.
Having outgrown our present site, the South China Library purchased the Rufus M. Jones House and property that rests largely between the Jones Road and Lakeview Drive, in South China. The ground breaking ceremony for new construction was held on August 6, 2018, and work has continued at a relatively slow pace since then. The portable classroom purchased from the town of China for $1 has been added to the new building as well. This new location will give us more and better organized interior space and will have the amenities that will allow our patrons and volunteer staff to be more comfortable year round. In the future we plan to develop the Jones house as an attractive historic venue. Fundraising for this still-evolving change in the library’s life is ongoing, and the results will ultimately continue our mission and efforts for a long time to come.
In conclusion, the South China Public Library is a vital, useful and compassionate presence in our town and the surrounding area. We have been in existence for 191 years and during that time have provided a multitude of services to untold numbers of loyal receivers. Change is inevitable, and we look forward to the future.
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