The Whitefield Elementary School plans to open the doors of the school library this summer – the result of a combined effort of the Whitefield Board of Selectmen, the school administration, and community volunteers.
A letter to selectmen by second-grader Quinn Conroy prompted the initiative.
“I think that we should have a public library in Whitefield, because on summer vacation there is nothing to do,” Quinn wrote to selectmen in February. He signed the letter, “your citizen Quinn.”
Selectmen worked on two different drafts of a letter before sending Quinn an official response. The idea of building a public library in Whitefield was proposed at town meeting years ago and defeated, selectmen wrote.
However, selectmen reached out to Whitefield Elementary School Principal Joshua McNaughton to discuss Conroy’s request.
The letter was written of Conroy’s own initiative outside school.
“It was a very pleasant surprise,” McNaughton said. “I’ve heard students say in the past they want the opportunity to keep visiting the library. Quinn actually put those words on paper.”
The school had long wanted to expand community access to its library, McNaughton said. The idea of summer hours for the library had been thrown around for a couple of years. Various options had been looked into, but financially, nothing had panned out, he said.
Through the power of volunteerism, the school may now be able to provide the access to the library it had hoped for.
McNaughton and Selectman Sue McKeen are organizing a group of volunteers to open the library during the summer months to enable students to continue to check out books.
Already eight community members have come forward to volunteer their time, McKeen said, and the number is growing.
“We were shocked to get a response,” said Dan Conroy, Quinn’s father. The initiative sparked by the letter “is amazing,” he said. Dan Conroy plans to volunteer at the library over the summer months.
Quinn said he loves to read – a love his parents instilled in him by reading to him every night from the time he was a baby. Since the age of 3, he has been able to read on his own.
After reading “Jason Wants a Library” by Margaret Tuley Patton one afternoon, Quinn was inspired. The character in the book had to ride a long distance on his bike to visit a library.
It was a struggle Quinn understood. “I don’t want to ride my bike that far,” he said.
The Conroys are able to order books through the Maine Public Library, which are delivered to their house. The books take a long time to arrive, however, and are due very quickly, Quinn said.
The libraries in Augusta and Damariscotta are a long distance away and charge a fee for a library card.
The Gardiner Public Library only offers library cards to residents of municipalities that financially support it. Whitefield no longer provides funding to the Gardiner library.
Quinn asked his mother who he should write to in town to get a library. His mother told him to write to the Whitefield Board of Selectmen. The letter was written by the end of the day.
“Kids like to read in the summer and grown-ups like reading too,” Quinn wrote in his letter. “Please make a public library.” Quinn also asked for the library to have some board games for kids to play and a couple of trains.
“We were surprised and pleased,” McKeen said about receiving Quinn’s letter. “It’s wonderful to think about a kid that cares so much about reading and education he would write us.”
Years ago, voters rejected a proposal to build a public library in Whitefield because of the cost involved, selectmen wrote to Quinn.
“It is our job to make sure the town has enough money to pay for road repairs, snowplowing, fire protection, and paying for the school and teachers,” selectmen wrote. “It is sometimes hard to make sure there is money to pay for everything.”
Quinn said he was surprised to learn that money was an issue.
“This has not deterred us, however, from speaking with your school principal in an effort to find an economical solution,” selectmen wrote.
The library at Whitefield Elementary School was formed in the mid-1970s through a volunteer effort, McKeen said. Many of the original volunteers who started the library are now involved in the effort to open the library during the summer months, she said.
“We want to encourage and keep our students reading all summer long and this is a way to do it,” McNaughton said. “We’re excited about the opportunity to expand library hours for the community.”
The summer schedule for the library is largely budget-dependent, McNaughton said. Whitefield Elementary School is requesting funds to install new carpeting in the library.
If the budget request is approved, McNaughton hopes to have the carpet installed early during the summer vacation and be able to open the library for a large portion of July and August. A volunteer training will take place toward the end of the school year, he said.
“I didn’t think anything would happen,” Quinn said of the letter, “but it did.”
Anyone interested in volunteering at the Whitefield Elementary School library over the summer is encouraged to contact Sue McKeen at 446-7473 or Josh McNaughton at 549-7691.