Whenever I watch someone turning the pages of a book, I remember the particularly delicious feeling I got as a child, watching my older siblings read.

Even before I could read, I mimicked my sister, Laura, as she sat by the furnace on a cold winter day, reading a Nancy Drew mystery. I sat beside her on the floor, holding a book and turning pages just like she did.

What an exciting world emerged for me later when I learned to read and those words on the page finally made sense. And discovering the public library was like entering a world full of candy (my next-best childhood love) where you could pluck from the shelf whatever sweet morsel you wanted, at no charge.

When I was in high school, the Skowhegan Free Public Library was my second home.

I went there after school and in the evenings, sitting in my favorite room, perched at a large, long table with books packed floor to ceiling all around me.

I researched, did homework and then scoured the shelves looking for good reads.


The regal old building has a fireplace, beautiful wood trim and a floor that creaked in well-traveled places. I still remember the smell of the wood and the pages of books, and the sound of the big door clanging shut as patrons came and went.

Memories of childhood came flooding back Tuesday as I visited the newly renovated Waterville Public Library which, by the way, is absolutely gorgeous.

I’d been there many times over the years to do news stories, but never really took the time to wander through the stacks, peruse the books, and just sit, look and listen.

It struck me, as I explored the rooms, stairways and halls, that wherever you go in the stately old building you can look out over the city from vantage points unavailable anywhere else.

To the northwest, there’s the First Baptist Church, the oldest public building in Waterville, where Samuel Francis Smith penned the patriotic song, “America,” in 1832 and was pastor there from 1834 to 1842.

From the second-floor large print room, with its high ceilings and lovely wooden arches, you can sit in comfortable new chairs, looking out over The Concourse and downtown, and see the American flag flying atop City Hall.


In the Maine room across the hall, I stumbled on the book “Franco-Americans of Maine,” by one of our former Sentinel editors, Dyke Hendrickson.

Another book I recognized popped out at me from a shelf across the room: “Green Wood and Chloroform: How a young English Doctor Settled in Rural Maine,” written by good friend and former Sentinel arts columnist Anthony Betts. He passed away four years ago.

Where as a child I saw libraries as castles of intrigue, full of untapped adventures bound between book covers,

I now experience a more familiar feeling when I enter a library — that of being enveloped in the comfort of books we devoured throughout our school years and beyond.

If you think about it, all our experiences, reading adventures included, make us who we are.

Being in the library is like being home. It is, after all, ours.


On the first floor, I perused the Maine Open Juried Art Show and voted for my favorite work. I was amused by the tiny black and white photographs hanging on the wall in the second-floor hallway. They are of volunteer library aides from the 1940s who ferried books to shut-ins.

At the circulation desk, just inside the new library entrance off Appleton Street, I got my very first Waterville library card after years of buying new and used books. It was free, because I live here.

“Bout time,” circulation assistant Darlene Tompkins said with a grin.

“By the way, if we don’t have what you’re looking for, we can get it, and your card is good for six libraries. There’s the Waterville library, there’s Gardiner, Unity, Kennebec Valley Community College, Thomas, Colby and Augusta (libraries).”

Tompkins has worked at the library 27 years. I ask her if she thinks books will ever become obsolete, in a world where electronic reading devices are gaining popularity.

“I don’t think so,” she said, as a steady stream of patrons came in and out. “There will always be books.”

Amy Calder has been a Sentinel reporter 23 years. Her column appears here Saturdays. She may be reached at [email protected]

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