Maine’s libraries are evolving for the better.

Volunteer Beth Hatch inspects the condition of books in the children’s section of the Vassalboro Public Library, one of the 39 Maine libraries that has received federal COVID-19 relief funds to create space that can be used for remote work. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel, File

We learned last week that 39 of Maine’s 255 public libraries are in line to receive a tranche of $1.7 million in COVID-19 relief, funding mostly geared at creating space that can be used for remote work. The smallest of the grants paid out will be $5,000, the largest $100,000.

These aren’t monumental sums of money. But when it comes to updating seating, adding partitions for better privacy and buying laptops for in-library use, even $7,934 can go a long way. Just ask Bucksport’s Buck Memorial Library, which received just that amount (and has committed to doing all of that with the grant while investing in new outdoor benches and a projector for events).

The decision to fund libraries in this way should remind us that they are more valuable than ever to a rapidly changing Maine.

Reporting by the Kennebec Journal last week did a very good job of setting out the new status quo: Representatives of three of the recipient libraries in central Maine – Gardiner Public Library, Vassalboro Public Library and Readfield Community Library – each said the average number of daily visitors to their libraries was up this year compared to before the pandemic.

They noted that, whether they choose to or they have no choice but to, an increasing number of people have been using the libraries as places to work remotely. We suspect that if you were to poll the other 36 libraries that have been identified for this funding, their officials would offer similar reports.


Brooks Rainwater, CEO and president of the Urban Libraries Council, told The Washington Post in June that one of the contemporary library’s biggest challenges was to dislodge the stereotype of being “musty, strict and focused solely on books.”

A busy, visible city-center library – the kind of place that was being used for remote work long before remote work became the fact of life it is today – might find this type of reputation management an easier task. Which is why it’s so important that the libraries dotted throughout Maine’s rural communities are getting a future-focused leg up, too.

“Our libraries routinely assist patrons with filling out unemployment forms, organizing and carrying out job searches, and digital skills building,” Maine State Librarian Lori Fisher said in a statement last week. “The projects funded through this initiative will take this core work to the next level and enable expanded services that meet the unique needs of remote or hybrid workers.”

It’s not just the classical remote or hybrid worker who stands to benefit from this focused infusion to libraries; the list of library users is long and growing all the time.

Your local library can be as much a hub for the worker needing to work from somewhere else as it can for older people getting online, parents with young children attending readings or new Mainers getting their bearings with the help of library connectivity and staff support. Keeping in mind the many social-infrastructure benefits like this, it stands to reason that even the town resident who doesn’t set foot in the library benefits from the library’s presence.

A modernized, thoughtfully equipped library that caters to the needs of a diverse cross-section of local people becomes a gift that keeps on giving. It supports individuals and families in their education and their work; provides invaluable services and support; militates against isolation and contributes to a greatly strengthened community fabric.

Long may these unique places of connection, collaboration, learning – and work! – thrive.

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