The power of your local library card just got 70x more powerful.
As public libraries serve as welcoming “third” spaces in our Midcoast communities, there are so many new resources and programs offered that the public has access to. Only, so many people still don’t know about them.
Not surprisingly, it was Maine’s librarians themselves who brainstormed alternative ways to give more people in the state broader access to libraries. At The Maine Library Association's Fall 2018 Conference (including the Maine InfoNet Pre-Conference) librarians in attendance “expressed a strong desire to develop initiatives that would strengthen broader library resource sharing across Maine,” according to Maine.gov’s website.
That conversation developed into a pilot program called the Maine Reciprocal Borrowing Program in September 2019, which will wrap in September 2020.
It's referred to as “walk-in,” borrowing card, because if you possess a local library card, you can walk into 68 libraries around the state and check out items.
A van goes around weekly to the libraries and does delivery service, scanning the bar codes and bringing the inter-library loan items back to the original libraries. Many libraries have deliveries every week day; some libraries have fewer.
Amy Levine, director of Rockland Public Library said, “We jumped on board as soon as we knew the state was going to do this pilot program, because it’s just such a great opportunity to extend our services. People like the flexibility and the opportunity to walk into most of the libraries in the state and check something out on the spot.”
The Advantages of Having a Card
For young and low-income residents
In the past, if you wanted a library card, you usually got the cheapest deal in the town you lived in, often for free. But, that limited you to the offerings of that particular library. If you lived outside the town, you had to pay for a non-resident library card. The tiers have changed over the years, but today, a single non-resident membership in some Midcoast libraries is nearly $50, (due in part to how the library is funded by taxpayers). Still, with rents, food costs and utilities in Maine higher than the national average, choosing necessities over purchasing a library card tends to be the case.
Now, if you are a resident of Camden, Rockport, Rockland, or Belfast, you can obtain a free card and access certain unique items and collections of other libraries that were previously off limits to non-cardholders.
For college and grad students
College and graduate students in Maine, now are also finding this pilot system incredibly convenient. Colby, Bates and Bowdoin are all participating as well, so Midcoast collegiates can borrow school-related materials from the colleges, and return them to their participating hometown libraries, eliminating the need for a long commute.
Adding to the power of the card is the already existing Interlibrary Loan Service (LLC), where participating libraries use a courier to deliver library books and materials from one library to another.
“If someone wants a book, we can usually get it in less than a week, through the van delivery, if it’s not a really popular title, but if the person needs it right now, he or she can go to the library where it is available, walk in and check it out right on the spot,” said Levine.
Not everything is allowed to be borrowed, however.
“Every library has a few things off limit, and for us it’s about the devices,” said Levine. “For example, we have a telescope and musical instruments that are not available for this program.”
Steve Norman, director of Belfast Free Library, said of the new pilot program, “This is another example of how libraries work together to provide better service to the public. There was a small group of libraries in southern Maine that had reciprocal borrowing agreement for a couple of years and we also used their model as our template.”
“People who commute are especially pleased,” he said. “If they live in a town with a participating library, yet work in another town with a participating library, [borrowing and returning materials] works out very well for them.”
Norman said almost everything that a Belfast Free Library card holder can check out works out the same for a cardholder from a participating library. “They can check out everything with the exception of special equipment and kits,” he said.
For at least eight more months, Maine taxpayers and residents should put their cards to work at participating libraries and literally “check out” new resources while they still can.
Participating Midcoast Libraries
One card gets you access to all four Midcoast libraries. Find out what you can check out by clicking:
Camden Public Library
Rockport Public Library
Rockland Public Library
Belfast Free Library
Wiscasset Public Library
Boothbay Memorial Library
Skidompha Public Library
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
SEARSMONT—Every Saturday, Bob MacGregor, founder and president of Waldo County Woodshed, can be found with other volunteers in Searsmont from 8:30 a.m. to noon, cutting, splitting and stacking wood for the benefit of other people. For the last six years, this volunteer-run, nonprofit has made sure families in Waldo county get through the winter with enough firewood to heat their homes. Last year, they gave out 170 cords worth $40,000.
On Saturday, December 9, the group held a Wood Processing Day, a volunteer event, to make it easier for families to pick up free firewood.
Local arborist, Travis Hamilton, of Arbor Tech, contacted MacGregor and asked him if he could use ‘a bunch of arborists with saws, splitters, tractors and trucks volunteering for a day.’
MacGregor was thrilled.
“We try to have several volunteer days each season, but this time, having a group of arborists who are trained in chainsaw safety come to us—that was something new,” he said. “It was a great help to have them out there working on their own without supervision.”
Hamilton arrived with his crew of five, and 10 volunteers in all put in about six hours that Saturday sawing the wood, splitting it with three wood splitters, and stacking it into wire racks.
“We cut as much wood as we could process,” said Hamilton, noting that some people who came to collect firewood for their families hung around afterward to help chop and stack more wood for others.
“People that need wood can just come and grab some in these quarter-cord bundles stacked up in these wire racks,” said Hamilton. “The idea is that if you take some wood, in return, just spend a little time fill up the rack for the next person. There’s a big pile of loose cord wood nearby.”
“I had a guy mention to me the other day, ‘If I only refill one rack, you’re not getting ahead; I should fill two racks,’” recalled MacGregor. “That’s the kind of thing I like to see as we are just a bunch of volunteers ourselves. ”
Even though there’s no pre-screening, Waldo County Woodshed has some sensible rules in place for those in need of wood to ensure that the wood distributed evenly. Those rules can be found on a pinned post on their Facebook page.
“The most important thing is to call ahead,” said MacGregor. “We have a volunteer scheduler that takes all the phone calls and directs people to the right site on the right day. By knowing how many people to expect at each site we can make sure we have enough wood and volunteers at the sites.”
You don’t need to qualify for anything,” said Hamilton. “It’s on the honor system. He’s not charging people; he’s not screening anyone. I think a couple people may have taken advantage of that in the past, but if someone needs wood that bad, Bob just says, ‘Go ahead and take it.’”
“Sometimes, we have people come each week, sometimes just enough to get them through before LIHEAP kicks in, but we just want to make sure we have enough to distribute out to everybody,” said MacGregor.
“This is the first year my crew and I volunteered,” continued Hamilton. “I would bring Bob my surplus wood from job sites. I have all the wood I can shake a stick at, literally. So, I try to give it away to people who need it, whether it’s my friends, or someone in the community.We’re a wood-rich community and people shouldn’t have to worry about staying warm. It’s important to give back, especially during the holidays. It makes us feel good that we’re able to do it.”
MacGregor said he doesn’t want to take business away from loggers and people who sell firewood for a living, so they fund-raise to buy wood from loggers and to process it, keeping everyone in business. “We do get a little bit of wood donated, but for the most part, we just prefer to buy it from loggers whatever the going rate it,” he said.
MacGregor isn’t looking for a lot of accolades. Formerly involved in the wood industry, he knows a lot of people who rely on wood heat as their primary source each winter.
“I just do it because people need help and we’re able to provide it,” he said.
Waldo County Woodshed has eight distribution sites around Waldo with Searsmont at their main yard. They will be opening another facility in Knox Count early next year at the Warren Transfer Station.
MacGregor encourages people to volunteer if they have a few hours on a Saturday morning.
“You don’t have to call ahead,” he said. “Just come out to Searsmont and we’ll find you something to do,” he said.
Donations can be made online or mailed to P.O. Box 401 Belfast. for more information visit: Waldo County Woodshed.
Kay Stephens can be reached at email@example.com
A traditional family Thanksgiving may be ideal for some, but for people who don’t have family in Maine, may have strained family relations, or just don’t feel like slogging through holiday travel, there’s another way.
Friendsgiving, a decidedly un-traditional potluck dinner with friends, is how to put a fun and stress-free spin on the holiday, while staying put in Maine.
Internet sleuths pinpoint the origin of the term Friendsgiving around 2007 or 2008 to reflect an informal gathering of a ragtag crowd, e.g., the child-free, the “holiday orphans,” the coworker, neighbor or single friend who is going to be stuck with a frozen Swanson’s Hungry Man turkey dinner and Netflix. It’s all about the camaraderie, and how we get through these long Maine winters.
The best part about Friendsgiving is that it’s not beholden to stringent tradition. It can be a lunch or dinner gathering. It can even be a few days before Thanksgiving, so people can get their “friend fix” before joining their families on November 28.
How To Plan The Menu (And Divvy up the Dishes)
According to the Rules of Friendsgiving, the host planning the party is the one cooking the bird and the gravy. The most reliable friend has to bring the hors d’oevres. The rest of the guests take the pressure off the host by bringing a side dish, a dessert, and/or a specialty cocktail.
The Food Network has some ideas on this. From mac and cheese to potato chip stuffed potatoes, this is the ideal time to ditch the canned cranberry and green bean mushroom casserole. Supporting Maine’s lobster industry and the lobstermen still out there hauling this time of year is a great way to add in a side dish to Friendsgiving and here are some great appetizer ideas from the Maine Lobster Festival.
The rituals of Friendsgiving are meant to be silly and fun or meaningful to the group. It can be a themed event, like a Tom Hanksgiving or a Friends-themed Friendsgiving with Rachel’s English trifle. Arriving in your own custom headwear is highly encouraged, using materials from a craft store.
Others just all agree to arrive in their pajamas and slippers. Gather everyone around for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade which starts at noon, and take a shot every time one of the hosts says “fun” or “wow.” Here are the rules. For designated drivers, teetotalers or people adulting, do five jumping jacks instead. Board games are also a major feature of Friendsgiving as a way to loosen up guests who don’t know each other very well. Some folks even like to give thanks ahead of time by volunteering together at Heroes 4 Hunger at 6 a.m. or band together to help serve Thanksgiving dinner to others before going back to the host’s house and continuing the celebration.
Once the Friendgiving meal starts, there’s still no need to be formal. Gather plates and pillows and eat on the floor watching old favorite movies or the Big Game. Your mother would be horrified, but she’s not going to be there. Or cover the table with butcher block paper and give everyone crayons. You can even put up a homemade poster and let your friends write what they are thankful for.
There’s even a few public Friendsgivings being hosted around Maine for strangers who want to become instant friends.
Here are more tips to make your Friendsgiving a festive one!
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Killer Convo
This blog is a is a killer roundup of all arts, entertainment, brewery & distillery, food trucks, happy hour happenings in the Midcoast Maine. Feel free to email me anything about Midcoast arts, entertainment & the creative economy.