Of Books and Libraries

My mother worked at the local library when I was little. I have a picture of myself, probably 5 years old, holding a book under my arm, standing in the Lisbon Falls library. My first job, at the age of 15, was at the same library (my mother no longer worked there by then), restocking books and putting on dust jackets. My father is a published author who helps people write their memoirs. My wife, who is a professional editor, and I own well over 3,000 books. My friend Kate Braestrup, a New York Times bestselling author, came to town in January for the Book & Author Lunch program, after I introduced her to our librarian.

I’m currently reading The Three Musketeers; Into Thin Air; The Last Lion, Volume III; and Roosevelt & Churchill, 1939–1941. I also recently picked up Uncle Tom’s Cabin and What God Hath Wrote, America 1815–1843. Last year I finished Ulysses S. Grant’s Memoirs, so this year perhaps I should try William T. Sherman’s Memoirs.

Shortly after moving to Tuftonboro, I joined the History Book Club that meets once a month at the library. We’ve read a lot of good books since then (and a couple of duds), with my favorites being The Black Count, American Sniper, and Bunker Hill. You should join; we meet the last Wednesday of the month. March’s book is The Immortal Irishman.

My book-loving bona fides sufficiently demonstrated, let me get to the point: We do not need a new library.

We have a library. It’s a nice library. I like it. I use it — less than some but more than others.

It could possibly use a few upgrades. Perhaps a new carpet, some paint, that type of thing. What it does not need is a $2 million expansion, which will inevitably have ongoing cost increases in the years to come — such as greater operating costs and additional employees.

While the Book & Author events I have been to were well attended (Kate’s event was sold out, at 40 people), the average number of people attending events at the library was just 12 last year, according to the library’s own statistics. For instance, we typically have 5 to 7 people in the book club.

If you go back a few weeks in the Grunter, you’ll find Skip Hurt’s letter, in which he lays out the history of the pro-library crowd’s failure to achieve their goal. We are on the sixth proposal in 12 years.

Why are we still arguing over this? Building a new library (or an expanded one) is a sincere desire for some, but it is not something that we actually need. Libraries are literally a thing of the past (Carnegie was building them a century and more ago). I didn’t get any of the books  mentioned above from the library. However, the History Book Club typically gets our selections through interlibrary loan so that we have enough copies to go around.

And that brings me to the space issue for books. It doesn’t matter how large our library building is — we will never have enough room for all the books. All libraries must manage their collection. If a book has not been checked out within a certain period of time, then we should get rid of it. If a patron later comes in asking for that book, then he or she can get it through interlibrary loan. Or they can buy it on Amazon or eBay and have it delivered to their house within two days for less than $10. People who read books don’t need big, show-stopping libraries these days.

I know many people who are going to vote for the $2 million library addition. I like and respect them, and I will continue to view them the same way even though we have different opinions about expanding our already-perfectly-nice library.

I hope you will attend Town Meeting on March 14 at 7:30 PM at Tuftonboro Central School: Your opinion about spending $2 million won’t affect the outcome unless you come and vote.

Note: I initially incorrectly stated that a new library has been voted down 6 times since 2006. In fact, we are currently considering the sixth library proposal in 12 years, and it has been voted down 4 times.