Charming Chincoteague Island Library (CIL) serves the 4000 or so people of the town and Northern Accomack County, Virginia.
Founded on Independence Day 1995, it used to be a barber shop, which is evident from the front of the building which faces the main street and is prettily framed by daffodils and bushes and an ageless stone fountain. It’s conveniently situated downtown, by a waterfront park with picnic tables and a sculpture of its most renowned resident, Misty.
Chincoteague is a lovely place where mallards and white ducks blithely wander the streets, and its library carries on this quaint tradition.
Even the addition, which opened in 2010 and tripled the square footage, has a timeless allure. Though it cost six hundred thousand dollars, it was all paid for by grants and donations – amazing for such a tiny village! Designed for free by local architect, Richard Vesely, the striking structure has an eye-catching cupola with windows that let in the sparkling seaside rays. The weathervane that caps the octagonal section was donated by one board member in honor of another.
There’s a wheelchair ramp, book drop, and a bike rack and parking in the back. By the entrance an antique globe light shines on a plaque dedicated to the groups and individuals who have helped make the facility possible.
Inside I met friendly Linda Ryan, the President of the Board of Directors, and one of the more than 30 volunteers who keep CIL open 39 hours per week. Linda told me that they are a 501(c)(3) organization funded mainly by private donations, though Eastern Shore Public Library (ESPL) does pay for 21 hours per week of staffing which is shared among three employees. Harriet Lonergan is their only volunteer/employee with an MLS degree.
CIL has a fundraising drive once a year which basically pays for the operations budget though they use ESPL’s broadband and courier services. Despite the limited staff, they always try to have two people behind the desk, especially during their very busy summer season.
The stained glass in the front was here when the place was used for cutting hair. On the right, a book rug hangs in the window which the volunteers decorate for holidays.
Here, old fashioned light fixtures illuminate the spindle back chairs and carved ducks and historical implements decorate the ledge beneath intricate white scrollwork. Storage cupboards below the videos provide extra room.
In a little alcove by the main desk, they sell book bags, library note cards, book marks, used books, CDs, postcards and a colorful print of pre renovation CIL. Online you can buy CIL clothing, mugs, clocks, calendars, coasters, framed tiles, journals, keepsake boxes, Christmas ornaments, duffles, aprons, iPad sleeves, hats, bumper stickers, buttons, mouse pads, pet bowls, throw pillows, wallets, charms, water bottles, earrings, stickers, magnets, clipboards, trays, shower curtains, mirrors, key chains, thermoses, and more. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an impressive array of promotional merchandise, but it is one of the most photogenic libraries I’ve seen.
Just down the corridor is the kid’s space with a striped cushion on the window seat and storage for baskets of board books below.
One corner has a stuffed version of Dr. Seuss’s Cat in the Hat watching the tots and over by the big screen TV, ma and pa teddy bears sit on a vintage brown toddler’s seat with a carved heart on its back. Above the older kid’s titles, a papier mâché child is stretched out enjoying a book and the floor is covered by a mat depicting children of the world. A chair painted with scenes of tabbies sweeping, eating and riding on buses is large enough to provide seating for parents and guardians.
Linda’s very involved with the preschool program – CIL has weekly storytimes with songs, crafts and finger plays for them most of the year. Second and sixth graders can enroll in their own book clubs and in the summer middleschoolers can participate in a reading program. NASA has a facility nearby and their Outreach Center did a story and activity session on rockets.
Artwork abounds. A Chincoteague Island clock and quilt (the latter donated when they put on the extension) adorn the walls behind checkout, where the Kleenex box is shaped like a pile of books. Plants and bouquets bring spring inside and on top of the lintel leading to the earliest part of the structure, a black metal cat leans over, as if stealthily watching some prey.
Most of the library has gorgeous blond wood floors often partially covered by lovely oriental carpets.
Adults can join two book clubs, attend Scrabble nights, talks on ghost adventures, adult education programs and go to author visits, or get literacy and computer training.
YA’s have their own room with two window seats and a magnificent rug. A gleaming roll top case by some flags holds a selection of Shakespeare tapes.
By the door, a dark wood pedestal with a bronzed barn owl sitting on a stack of tomes honors a patron’s mother and on the other side, a bulletin board with a distinctly maritime theme advertises upcoming functions.
And on a sill is an enchanting photograph of Marguerite Henry with Misty.
CIL’s facebook page is packed with frequent updates about library events and other happenings. There’s a calendar for the surrounding region and I imagine that’s where townsfolk go when they want to plan their social activities for the week. I love the post reminding people that it’s turtle breeding and egg laying season so they need to watch out for meandering testudines when driving around. And the aerial shot of the old swing bridge midway through a turn is marvelous. The page has tons of snaps of parties from ones for the tiniest tots to senior extravaganzas, including fishing excursions and visits from the famous local ponies.
By the elevator there’s a periodical rack and they have 24/7 wifi and six public internet computers with word processing for cardholders and visitors. Summer people also have a choice of free books and magazines. Customers can borrow audio books and older titles for 28 days while videos, DVDs and new publications are loaned for two weeks.
With ESPL, who catalog all CIL materials and make online searching, holds and renewals possible, they are working towards putting in RFID.
Upstairs is spectacular. Vistas of tall sailing ships in the Chincoteague Channel just outside can be enjoyed from leather upholstered Queen Anne armchairs. Two small closets keep supplies hidden and there are numerous oral history transcripts to peruse. They are available on the web site too, along with the newsletter.
What an enchanting place!