HALLOWELL — The Hubbard Free Library continued to climb closer to its annual fundraising goal by hosting a reading of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” in the City Hall Auditorium.

The event, co-sponsored by the Gaslight Theater, also included music, a raffle and desserts.

The library’s board decided in October to attempt to raise $25,000 by Dec. 31 that would be used to help with next year’s operating costs. As of Friday, the organization has received $20,065.70 in donations from individuals and businesses, according to board member Ken Young, which is 80.3 percent of the goal. The nonprofit raised an additional $1,010 during the event Sunday.

“With 21 days remaining in December, I anticipate that we will meet or exceed the goal,” Young siad. “The community and several donors from outside of Hallowell as well have been and continue to be very supportive.”

The nonprofit organization that runs the library, which was built in 1880 and is the oldest library building in Maine that still serves its original purpose, completed a seven-year capital campaign in 2014 and began thinking of ways to make the library’s day-to-day operations more efficient and sustainable.

“The response has been very, very significant in terms of our finances and heartwarming that so many people have responded in such a robust manner,” Young told the audience that packed the auditorium Sunday afternoon. “The range of contributions have been amazing.”

Before the reading by members of the Gaslight group, a cedar chest and three acrylic paintings of Monhegan Island and the Hubbard Free Library were raffled. Tickets were $5 for six chances, and all proceeds went to the library organization.

Board member Cara Courchesne said the board is encouraged by the support from the community.

“It shows how invested they are in keeping the library’s doors open,” she said. “Today was a perfect example of he community’s support.” And yet we also know that we can’t become complacent and assume that we’re in the clear. We have a lot of work to do.

State historian Earle Shuttleworth said public readings of Dickens’ work dates back to 1853 when the famous author himself was asked to read his own stories publicly. He stopped writing after 1858, Shuttleworth said, because of how much money he was able to make doing public readings.

“He devoted himself to the readings and was a natural actor who loved seeing the reactions of the audience,” Shuttleworth said.

In 1867, Dickens went on a four-month reading tour across America, including a stop in Portland on March 30, 1868. He took a train from Boston and stayed at the Prebble House Hotel ahead of his reading, which was held at the rebuilt City Hall auditorium. About 1,300 people attended the performance.

Throughout the tour, Dickens made 76 appearances and earned $228,000. After leaving Portland, Shuttleworth said a 12-year-old girl who’d become a well-known author, boarded in North Berwick determined to meet Dickens. His handler left his seat, and the girl sat down and struck up a conversation with Dickens that lasted until they got to Boston.

“This reading is part of the tradition,” Shuttleworth said.

After the nonprofit organization raised around $450,000 for the first phase of the campaign, which included a new slate roof, two new boilers and repairs to the building’s concrete exterior, contributions and donations to the nonprofit’s general fund have decreased steadily.

It costs about $130,000 per year to run the library, including pay for its five part-time staffers. The city of Hallowell contributes $27,000 per year, and the remaining money comes from the annual fund and the library’s investment fund.

Because of the decline in contributions in recent years, the organization has resorted to pulling money from the endowment to help pay for the daily operation of the facility. That practice is not sustainable, board members say, and if something doesn’t change, the library won’t be able to continue operating as it has in the past.

The library used to be open on more days throughout the week or for more hours. Last summer, it was closed on Mondays and was expected to re-open on Mondays once school started, but the closure has become a permanent cost-cutting measure. The library cannot afford to be open on Mondays, and if nothing changes, the library’s operation isn’t sustainable after another three or four years.

According to financial records, the nonprofit organization had $1,043,078 in assets at the end of 2016, which was down $59,049 from the previous year. Since the end of 2014, the organization has lost $89,211 in assets.

As part of the fund drive, the board actively is recruiting additional members to join the group’s board. It recently added a man with an advanced business degree and a woman with a master’s degree in library science.

Nonprofits can’t rely on the same set of donors because those people eventually get tired of being asked to donate. It’s important for the Hubbard organization to expand its group to bring in new people.

Since the campaign was announced in October, the trustees have received contributions that have varied from $4 and a jar full of silver coins to a $2,000 check.

Courchesne said despite the turnout Sunday and the money raised since October, the board knows there are still challenges ahead.

“We know that we can’t become complacent and assume that we’re in the clear,” she said. “We have a lot of work to do.”

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

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