The midterm elections are just days away now, and the deadline for opining about the candidates has passed. So now, in the final frenzy, we must look elsewhere for subject matter.
We could talk about skunks, which are unusually abundant on Mount Desert Island this fall; likewise, deer in Gouldsboro. We could talk about birds, present in the area in record numbers thanks to a compressed migration period as the temperature drops and persistent north winds blow. The birds are out on the town, flocking on lawns and roads and hurling themselves at house windows.
We could salute the exhausted wait staffs of our local restaurants, the hotel clerks and retail salespeople who are finally able to draw breath. Many of them are soon to migrate south with the birds. The last, brave cruise ship passengers, getting more of an adventure than they bargained for, are scuttling up and down the streets of Bar Harbor, blown along by the ceaseless wind, wrapped in layers of fleece or down and hastily purchased wooly hats.
Those of us who remain behind when the tourists and summer people have gone are ready to pick up where we left off last spring. There are places to park in our downtowns. There are seats in the restaurants that remain open (thank you, thank you!), and no reservations needed. There is no line at the movie theater. The people around are mostly people we know.
The off-season is the time we turn our attention to the business of our towns. How are they doing? School populations are declining. When is a small school too small? What will happen with local taxes in the coming year? Who wants a ferry to Canada? Whom will we choose for selectmen or councilors?
And when the day comes that we can walk down the yellow line on any of our streets without risk, joy of joys, there is the library. They still lend books, and the idea that libraries would become obsolete because most printed material can be found online was woefully premature.
Community members turn to their libraries for author talks, concerts, crafts for kids, book clubs, knitting circles, local historical displays, maker spaces and art exhibits. A story slam? Check. Contra dance? Check. A telescope you can take out to look at the night sky? Check.
These days our libraries are serving yet another vital function. They are one of the last remaining places where people of different backgrounds, lifestyles and opinions may be found under one roof. They are warm and welcoming places to all who are peaceable.
With increasing frequency, libraries are hosting community conversations on local or regional topics of the day. The town hall? The local school? A church? These locations make themselves available when they can, but may have security concerns, or require additional staff time to host events, or are just not places where everyone feels comfortable.
Libraries are different. They are about as neutral as territory gets in small towns, and libraries are taking on the role of civic centers with a vengeance. The Jesup Memorial Library in Bar Harbor has hosted talks on civil discourse as well as community meetings where the principles of such discourse provide the ground rules.
The Dorcas Library in Gouldsboro successfully applied for a grant to host “multigenerational and community-wide conversations” about the economy of the Schoodic Peninsula. The Blue Hill Library hosts an “inclusive storytime for all ages and all abilities.” The Stonington Public Library called this summer a “barn burner,” with more patrons and more book loans in July than in any previous month in the last 10 years.
At a time when one hardly dares turn on the radio in the morning for fear of tragic news of yet another disaster, natural or man-made, libraries are a haven of civil interaction. If you, like so many of us, are looking for a way to do something, anything, in response to the acts of brutality being committed in this country every day, think about your local library.
Give money. Municipal funding is never enough. Give time. Volunteers are always needed. Think of your support as first aid for the bruised American spirit. For those who say “this is not who we are” when another mass shooting occurs, libraries are the institution that can rightfully claim: “THIS is who we are.” A resource free to its users, respectful of social, economic and cultural differences, and staffed by people whose work is committed to making your day better, the antidote to the most recent devastating event or dread of the next one may be as close as your local library.