Friday, December 13, 2002
Be-Friending Gleason Public Library since 1966
Gleason Public Library has been a meeting place for everyone in town since its beginnings in 1896. For over a century, library directors and staff have built and cared for the collection of books, helped legions of schoolchildren with their homework, guided adults through research and pleasure-reading, overseen art and literary programs, and fought to keep Carlisle abreast of the latest in information technology, from the Dewey Decimal System card catalogue to the telephone to the computer. It hasn't always been easy. Town budgets have ebbed and flowed over the last century, and there have been tough times when the library had to be closed more than it was open during any given week.
Carlisle isn't the sort of town that would ever allow its library to remain unavailable to the public, however. Ruth Chamberlin Wilkins' Carlisle: Its History and Heritage reports that in January 1966, a group of citizens, led by former trustee Kay Woodward, formed a new organization "to focus public attention on the library services, facilities and needs, and to stimulate gifts to the library of books, magazines, endowments, and bequests." This new organization became the Friends of Gleason Public Library, and in the 37 years that followed its founding, it has become so much a part of the library's programs and services as to be nearly indistinguishable from the institution itself.
Fundraising for library support has taken on many different forms and incarnations over the years. The Friends have sold Gleason's bookplate picture on stationery, mugs, and tote bags (the latter are still available and highly recommended for carrying purchases away from the annual book sale). Early newspaper drives contributed to the development of Carlisle's newspaper recycling program when this project was turned over to the town.
Many residents will remember fundraisers that combined charity with entertainment — the chocolate extravaganza under the leadership of Diane Powers, for example, and more recently the popular potluck suppers and murder mystery theater. When the library celebrated its centennial in 1996, then-director Peggy Hilton recruited all the available former Friends presidents to organize a celebratory garden party on the lawn.
Membership drives were also combined with Friends-supported library programs: former president Penny Zezima remembers that, while children were engrossed in story hours sponsored by the Friends, their mothers would be plied with refreshments and recruited for membership and to volunteer for projects. During the open hearings about the new library addition, the Friends sponsored coffees all over town to drum up support for the library and express the need to swell their ranks with volunteers.
Many Friends' services and programs have become Carlisle traditions. During Peggy Hilton's tenure as library director, The Great Pumpkin Spectacle was begun, and droves of Carlisle children still turn out for it every year. The potluck supper, held in the winter, is still a popular social event. Book sales, art and craft exhibits, and museum passes are an integral part of Carlisle's literary and cultural life.
The Friends have financed the addition of the book drop, bicycle rack, magazine subscriptions, and contributions to the restoration of two primitive portraits and an antique military banner owned by the library. More recently, they have sponsored authors' lectures, which have included sportswriter Ed Swift, co-author with ice skater Ekaterina Gordeeva of My Sergei: A Love Story; Kenneth Gloss of the Brattle Book Shop on rare books; naturalist, author, and explorer Brad Washburn; and on December 8 of this year, novelist Art Corriveau. In the year 2000, the Friends began a book discussion group for adults that meets on the second Thursday of every month, and a family picnic on the lawn with live music to celebrate the start of the academic year.
Membership a priority
Like the library itself, the Friends have had their ups and downs. During the construction of the latest library addition, activities like the book sale and the family picnic, and anything else that was held in the library or on its lawn, had to be either relocated or suspended. As a result, today's Friends are seeking new members, new ideas, and restructuring fund-raising, activities, and services to move with the times. This coming year, Carlisle can still look forward to the murder mystery theater in January, the potluck supper, and some spring surprises. There are plenty of opportunities to participate. "Strength lies in numbers, and I am a firm believer in the power of shared jobs," says current president Paula Trebino. "The possibilities are endless for the Friends to make this great resource, our public library, even better."
In today's economic climate, the Friends' dedication to providing tangible support for the library is more important than ever before, but this is far from a serious group of drudges. Friends' meetings and activities are fun, and the emphasis is always on bringing people together in town and in the library to enjoy its resources. As Trebino says, "The Friends is really the only group in town that is for everyone: young, old, married, single, males, females, parents, people without children, people of all beliefs." Why not join the Friends? It's nearly impossible to have more fun in a good cause.
© 2002 The Carlisle Mosquito