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WEST PARIS — Affectionately known as the "little castle," the West Paris Public Library has recently received an addition which makes the first half of that moniker obsolete.
Almost exactly one year ago, on February 6, 2010, the town opened the doors to a library which had almost tripled in size.
Since then, usage at the library has skyrocketed.
From 2009 to 2010, the number of new library cards issued increased from 89 to 164, the number of visits from 3,305 to 4,619, and the number of books and DVDs borrowed went up from 3,840 to 5,656. Library trustee Les Pulsifer believes these numbers are indicative of the good wrought by the new library.
"The increased amounts of new library cards, visits, and books and DVDs taken out speak loudly of the benefit this has been to the community," said Pulsifer.
Fellow trustee Sandra Broberg echoes Pulsifer's sentiment and thinks that the new facilities have given the town a lift in tough times.
She believes the greatest good brought have been surges in, "the pride of the community, the increased interest, the number of children coming in with their parents."
"The interest of the community in the library has increased in an astonishing way," she says.
Contributing to this interest are the myriad new ways the library is being utilized now that it has enough space.
"West Paris Library has joined libraries across the country that are expanding services and becoming community centers," says Librarian Patty Makley.
With the new space, the library has been able to provide the community with services it's never before been able to offer. Last Friday, it hosted a class of first graders from West Paris's Agnes L. Gray Elementary School for story time, something staff members do every month.
"With the space we had before, we couldn't have accommodated 14 or 15 students here at one time," says Makley. Now with the new addition, it is able to have them every month in an area of the library just for children's books.
In addition to story time, the library has also expanded its services for those in the community out of grade school. It hosts poetry readings as well, and a small conference room in the addition is used to display work from local artists. In doing so, the trustees believe that it is helping broaden the horizons of the town's residents.
"This town has never had art exhibits before," says Pulsifer. "The library has brought a whole new perspective to West Paris."
Lack of space had been an issue for the town's only public library for years. Makley looked through the records and found a series of attempts to expand.
She found a grant from 1992 that reads, “Lack of space is one of the ongoing problems which is addressed in this application. This is a particular problem when school children visit in a group.”
"So you see this addition has been a dream for over 18 years," says Makley.
Over that time, members of the library have applied for and received a variety of grants and donations that have helped to rehabilitate and expand its facilities. An addition on the scale that they needed, however, still seemed like a dream until 2008 when the Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation awarded the library a $50,000 grant.
To reach the $359,000 it took to finish the addition though, the library still required a great deal more. To find the money, they pulled sizable amounts from their endowment, and received generous donations from the town and community.
Going forward, Makley says trustees are looking for even more ways to serve the small town of West Paris. They would like to host preschool programs and a reading group for high school students in the town. Also, they recently received a grant from the Maine Reads Community Literacy Project, which they hope to use to help adults in town looking to find a job or improve on what they already have.
"The proposed project will provide resources for the unemployed or underemployed," says Makley. "For example, this might consist of mini-classes at the library to increase computer literacy, or info sessions connecting people with existing programs. The goal would be to enhance people’s ability to find work, and to be successful once employment is found."
They all believe that the library will be an important asset to the town for years to come.
"Kids have a lot of places to go and hang out," says Pulsifer. "But to be able to hang out in the library is a pretty positive thing for the town."