To share the wonders of Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick, I must begin at the beginning. Not the very beginning of the library itself (which was built in 1904 and then renovated and expanded in 1999), but the first time I happened upon it, and the circumstances under which I found myself wandering amongst its well-stocked shelves.
I moved to Brunswick in the summer of 2014, relocating from Old Town to be closer to family and to take a new job. By moving away from Old Town, I was leaving behind all the things that had become familiar and comforting over the six years I’d lived there. It was one of those “leaps of faith” choices that are necessary from time to time. And while I have never regretted my decision to move here, I would be lying if I said I didn’t have any doubts those first few months.
Forgive me for sounding melodramatic here, but this is true: my life changed the day I went into the library for the first time. Not in a single, dramatic moment. Not in an Ed McMahon-at-your-door-with-a-big-cardboard-check kind of way. But I look back on that day as a definite turning point to my new life in Brunswick. It was a fall day – brilliant blue sky, bright and sunny. Feeling cooped up in my small, overly-priced apartment, I decided to take a walk, as that has always proven restorative for cases of the domestic blues. I had no particular destination in mind.
I ended up at the library. I’d seen it on my drives through town, but I’d never been in it before that day. Upon entering the doors facing Middle Street, I was struck immediately by the atmosphere of the place – it was calm and happy. Everyone smiled – the librarians behind the desk and the patrons walking around with books tucked under their arms. I smiled back before heading off to explore the building. Coming from a tiny Northern Maine town where the public library is a small, one-story brick building, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing as I wandered about.
A large, sprawling brick building, a nice blend of modern and classical. The oldest wing – the 1904 building – houses a fireplace room complete with creaky hardwood floors and cozy leather armchairs where one can curl up and read or write to their heart’s content. There were study rooms, quiet rooms, desks tucked away in nooks, bright, sunny windows overlooking gardens and landscaped grounds. It was organized well, all the thousands of books smiling at me from their shelves, as if to say, “Well, hello! We’ve been waiting so long for you.” What struck me most, as I walked amongst the rooms and nooks and shelves, was the feeling that I had – quite unexpectedly – come home.
It was a feeling I had yet to experience in this new city. Up until that point, Brunswick had been a labyrinth of un-navigable one-way streets and too much traffic. That day at the library, I knew I had finally found it: a place I could make my own, a place that would take me in whenever and however I needed. A safe haven. It was at this same time that I resolved to write more, both in my journals and on my fiction – and I decided I’d do it there, at the library, where there would be none of the usual distractions from home, like binge-watching Netflix while devouring more cookies than anyone ever should in one sitting.
That first day at Curtis Memorial, I had no way of knowing that I would end up spending many happy hours there writing and reading. I didn’t know that my love – then only an acquaintance – would delight in hearing me speak of my passion for reading, writing, books, and the library itself. And I certainly didn’t know that in just over a year, I would be working there, one of the smiling – for lack of better word – librarians (my heart still skips a beat at the title) behind the desk talking about books to happy patrons.
In my few months working at Curtis Memorial Library, I have been, time and again, impressed by its influence on the community of Brunswick. To see so many patrons checking out items, so many kids running to the children’s section to find the next perfect book, so many people bettered by the various programs the library provides (book groups, children’s story hours, help with genealogy research, computer assistance, discounted passes to museums like the Farnsworth and the Boston Science Museum, craft meetups – to name only a few services CML has to offer)… I still marvel at how fortunate I am to work in such a place. It’s more than books. The books are a huge part of it, of course. But more than that, it’s the people – the staff and the patrons – that allow me to say I have the best job in the world.
I think there may still be some lingering preconceived notions about libraries – memories of school librarians shushing you, the need to be silent as you pored through the card catalog. The environment at CML couldn’t be further from that. Just as one example – every month, the Collaboratory (“part mini-classroom, part museum, part play space”) offers a different interactive display. This month it is centered upon music. You can play Guess That Tune, try out the percussion wall, or play Beatles Rock Band. Those of us working at the Circulation Desk, which is located right next to the Collaboratory, get to hear kids, teens, and adults try out all the different fun things – a pleasant cacophony of varied instruments. No shushing allowed. I could go on for days about the other services provided by Curtis Memorial – interlibrary loan (where you can reserve books, movies, audiobooks, and music from any of the 61 participating Maine libraries that share the online Minerva system), rotating art exhibits in the Morrell Meeting Room, Books on Wheels, Free Coffee Fridays… But of course the best way to explore what CML has to offer is to venture in for yourself.
That first day I happened upon the library, I couldn’t have known all that it would become for me. All I knew was that I was in a place that I could tell I already loved. I usually feel tense – or “torqued up,” as my father would say. Too often, I feel harried, a bit out of place. And that had especially been the case in those first few months in Brunswick. But not that day. Not at the library. In that environment, I finally felt at peace. Like all the outside confusion had finally settled. I was joyful. Then again, that happens every time I am among books, particularly in second-hand book-stores… But a library works, too. That day at CML – what has since become, in so many ways, what I can’t help but call my library, though I imagine many people think of it as their own – I breathed in all the words and came to life again.
Isn’t it fitting, then? The motto of CML is, ‘A World of Possibility.’ And that is exactly what it has opened up – not just for me, but for any lucky person who finds themselves, on any given brilliant or dreary or otherwise ordinary day, entering its doors.
Curtis Memorial Library’s regular hours are Mon-Thurs, 9:30-8:00, Fri 9:30-6:00, Sat 9:30-5:00, and Sun 12:00-4:00. http://www.curtislibrary.com/ You should also check out the CML Facebook page.
“When all else fails, give up and go to the library.” – Stephen King
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