Topsham Public Library: 80 years of literary legacy

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TOPSHAM — Although the Topsham Public Library building is just seven years old, it’s been 80 years since the institution was born.

The library, now at 25 Foreside Road, presented a long-range plan for the next three years to the Board of Selectmen on July 7.

Topsham’s library history goes back to 1803, with the founding of the Social Library of Topsham, which operated for at least 30 years, according to a booklet commemorating the town’s 200th anniversary in 1964.

The Topsham Public Library was born the next century, the result of a nearly 10-year effort by the Village Improvement Association to raise money, obtain books and find a usable building. That library opened in the second floor of the old Androscoggin Engine House on Main Street in February 1931 with 1,500 books.

Ten years later, thanks to Sarah Whitten’s bequeath of her 1838 family home to the town, the library moved to Pleasant Street under the new name of the Whitten Memorial Library. By 1964 the library possessed nearly 11,000 books.

A long range plan determined in 1998 that Topsham’s increasing population had outgrown the 1,000-square-foot library, and the institution moved in 2000 to space leased by School Administrative District 75 at the Topsham Navy Annex.

The library’s current 11-acre property was found the following year, and in 2002 the town approved a $1.5 million bond to build a new library. An additional $1 million for the project came through fundraising.

Ground was broken in 2003, and the 13,000-square-foot Topsham Public Library opened in May 2004.

The building now contains nearly 40,000 books. It has a meeting room, an art gallery, gardens, and a set of computer terminals to allow patrons to access the Internet. The library offers a Books on Wheels service to those who cannot get to the library and a job information center, along with as several book discussion groups and special events for children.

“All this is … trying to reach people where they have a need,” library Director Susan Preece said last week, “and (to) be a community center for all ages, which is what is in our mission.”

The library also offers high-speed wireless Internet access, which some patrons use from their cars in the parking lot when the library is closed.

The library is riding the wave of technology that has seen the card catalog become a thing of the past and the Internet become a prime research tool, while the electronic book is challenging the endurance of the print version.

“Any time a new technology comes in, libraries look at it and try to see what the value is, and if their patrons are wanting it, then you go with it,” Preece said.

She noted that the library benefits from being part of a consortium with more than 60 other Maine libraries, allowing Topsham patrons to receive the resources they need within about a week.

Downloadable materials such as audio books and electronic books are also available through the consortium; the materials ultimately expire on those devices, similar to a printed book being due back at the library.

“We’ve seen a huge increase in the numbers of our statistics of people downloading and using those items,” Preece said, adding that the library has trained patrons on how to use those items on their own electronic devices.

The library, which has seen an 11 percent increase in visits in the past year, has more than 7,000 patrons. Library cards are free to Topsham residents. Non-resident adult cards are $35; non-resident children’s cards are $10 and must be purchased with an adult card.

Preece said the library plan is to “continue to do what we do very well, which is public service, programming, having enough information for the people who are coming into the building, that are looking for recreation research as well as studying, (and) to support the local students.”

Managing library resources to meet as many community needs as possible is also part of the plan. This includes working with town authorities to acquire sufficient funding for library services, managing and boosting financial support from various sources, encouraging volunteerism on the library’s behalf, and developing plans for maintenance and improvement of the library building and resources.

The library has new hours; it is closed Sunday and Monday and open Tuesday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Sidebar Elements


Susan Preece, left, and Cynthia Burne are the director and assistant director, respectively, of the Topsham Public Library, which has existed for eight decades.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.