Pun intended for this sweet seaside library on the largest island off the wave battered Maine coast. The lovely rear entrance on Main St. belies a much larger building in the weathered shingle style typical of New England ports and beaches.
Mount Desert Island, ME is accessible from the mainland via a bridge and resembles a set of lungs, which means that old adage “you can’t get there from here” often applies, unless you have a boat. A fashionable summer colony for the super rich since the 1880’s, it’s home to Acadia, the only national park in New England (admirably parceled together with donated land from preservation-minded titans of yesteryear, which explains its oddly disjointed appearance).
But the sea has been its mistress since pre-Columbian times and several picturesque fishing towns dot the island. The population swells from 10,000 in the winter to a couple of million tourists in summer, and Southwest Harbor Public Library is well equipped to serve them while retaining the characteristic charm of the area.
The first floor is more like a house with a number of separate rooms – imagine reading by the fire on a blustery winter day in this lovely paneled space.
Yet each area retains a very distinct personality. These eight little identical rooms housing adult fiction have an almost sacred feel.
The teen area appeals with blue jean bean bags, graphic novels, Playaways and games (love the Dewey chair!)…
…and continues across the hall with bright colors, barstools, a wonderful gargoyle bookend and a large screened YA computer.
Constructed in 1895, the building is the oldest in town whose use hasn’t changed, though there have been several additions/remodelings and the second floor is mostly one huge skylit room with a modern feel. The services reflect the 21st century too. They loan out Kindles, have downloadable audios and e-books plus wi-fi. Four public internet computers are available to tourists and they can get a $20 deposit card to use all library services.
Loads of plants and skylights give the facility an airy feel. Art and nature intermingle in the decor with the sea as the overarching theme.
Antiques, collectibles, model ships and hanging rugs are scattered about and there’s a display case with jewelry for sale (20% of the proceeds go to the library). The walls are an art exhibit with painting and photos from different artists that change monthly, (there’s a month-long silent auction in August).
Old and new blend seamlessly – the colorful old seaglass window frame next to this sunny window seat complements the locally made stained glass cornice above the front desk…
…where friendly staff and volunteers like Charles, Candy, Cathy and Kate are available to help.
A staircase behind the desk leads upstairs where a large screen computer plays a slide show of their photo collection and the Katherine R. Heimbold Reading Room is sometimes used for programs.
There’s also a meeting room that can be reserved by anyone.
The area for younger children is enchanting with a tot sized park bench, wicker chairs, a fairytale house and a rug with a map of the world ringed by children in their national costumes.
It’s a classic and timeless place of wonder perfectly suited to this beautiful, hardscrabble Maine location.