While visiting relatives this foliage season in my old stomping grounds near the White Mountains of New Hampshire, I sought respite from the traffic jam of leaf peepers and Fryeburg Fair attendees at the North Conway Public Library (NCPL).
There’s a ramp out front for accessibility and a picnic bench in their yard beneath glorious orange, red and yellow maples. This lovely old structure is not atypical for a New England library. Built over 100 years ago with granite from a local quarry, it’s quite cozy – probably about 4500 square feet. They have a staff of three assisted by ten volunteers, two stories of public space and a basement which is used for storage.
When I asked permission to take pictures, I was sent upstairs to meet vivacious Andrea Masters; a doctor originally from Germany who decided she wanted to do some good in the world and so became the library director here in September 2001. Dubbed the Triathlete Librarian, outside her upstairs office there’s a “Meet your librarian” poster with pictures of her running, biking and in a wet suit finishing a swim.
Andrea told me that their service population is around 2000 but since they are privately funded by an endowment and by regular fundraising events, they let the entire Mt. Washington Valley (including the thousands of summer residents) use their collection for free (in New England, libraries often charge a (sometimes hefty) fee for non residents to use their collections).
There are actually two upstairs spaces – on this side of the building, the Local History and Genealogy Balcony looks down on the Children’s Area and fall colors tint the view from the windows.
The 900’s are up here also – the collection is scattered throughout several rooms and spaces in the building.
Downstairs, in Children’s, old gilded rocking chairs provide comfort for guardians while green plants will contrast with the snowy scene outside during the long winters. There are Teen Shelves, wooden toys, kid size furniture and bean bag chairs along with book/CD combination packs and a rug depicting a bucolic pond fringed by cattails and crossed by a wooden bridge.
Stunning granite forms one wall while original pictures from local artist, Benjamin Champney, perhaps the most famous painter of the White Mountains in the 19th century, decorate another. Unfortunately and oddly, all the Champney’s the library owns are of pastoral European scenes – the only representation of local peaks that they have of his is a print!
The rest of the library has lots of lovely trim and dark wood shelves line the walls, but light streams in through windows above the wood ledge that runs around the bottom of the second story. Several small rooms, alcoves and halls hold magazines, DVDs, paperbacks etc. and even a festive skeleton.
The main room is decorated for Halloween and fall, though winter ski season is obviously anticipated as a stately bust cheekily wears a red and green wool cap. An old school desk holds a Bike for Books display by the fireplace.
Despite the age of the facility, they have wifi, six internet computers (including two in Youth), and they even use a QR code to provide convenient info to cell phone users. They keep an active facebook page with recent snaps of attendees by the Saco Covered Bridge at their annual Bike for Books benefit, a mountain bike tour of the Mt. Washington Valley that offers free books, bike bottles and a pizza lunch.
Other events include a Breakfast Buffet fundraiser, a huge Book and Art Sale, and a Theatre Night with spelling bee, silent auction, music and a cocktail reception. There are summer story times, a book group, and lectures on such diverse topics as addiction, scary stories, domestic violence and canine search and rescue.
Also in the main room, I find a large book display as well as new and popular fiction shelves and a PC screen saver that sports a gorgeous shot of the front of the library. Overlooking it all, in another upstairs balcony area, internet computers users watch the activity below…
… and a large study table and cozy armchairs faced towards this huge window let patrons comfortably watch the constant stream of people on Main Street in this hopping four season tourist town.
As well as the usual items, NCPL lends out Kill A Watt meters, board games, puzzles and ereaders (two NOOKs, a Kindle, and soon a Kindle Fire) for two weeks. Customers can get ILL’s from all over New Hampshire via NHU-PAC and the web site has downloadable ebooks, audiobooks and a number of databases including the Union Leader and Concord Monitor newspaper databases.
What a charming library and congratulations in advance for celebrating their 125th anniversary next month!