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Effingham library keeping up with the times

LIBRARY DIRECTOR TERRY WHEELER (left) and Assistant Director Crystal Hoyt in the library's main book room with its new shelving units provided by a USDA grant. (Carol Holyoake photo) (click for larger version)
January 08, 2015
EFFINGHAM — Tucked away on the far east of the state is a surprisingly detailed Italianate building dominating the little town of Effingham's center. With a two-story bell tower topped by an octagonal cupola complete with a large cast iron bell, it invites the visitor to stop, come in and explore. Dating back to 1861 it was originally built to house the New England Masonic Charitable Institute along with meeting rooms for the Charter Oak Lodge #58 which continues to use the second floor today. While enrollment in the Institute was open to all for a fee, it also provided tuition and housing for free to orphaned children of New England freemasons.

While the building has seen occupants come and go over the years, including the Town of Effingham, today it is happily still a gathering place for children and their families. The concept of free public libraries, which was a product of the Grange Movement, led to the establishment of the Effingham Free Public Library in the building in March of 1893.

Like most libraries it is a collaboration of state and town governed by an elected board of volunteer trustees. Maureen Spencer was elected as a trustee in 2000 and has diligently worked and written grants to upgrade the library into one that provides top notch services, facilities, programs and staffing. Grants have funded a new children's room, teen space, and computer areas. A recent grant from the USDA covered costs to purchase wooden shelves, specifically designed for libraries, and having them professionally installed, requiring first that the floor of the main room be reinforced. Spencer's vision for the library extends into the future with a wish list for outdoor community spaces for reading, walking, a playground, and perhaps even a community garden and gazebo.

Terry Wheeler, who became library director in June 2014, says the library plays an extended role as community center available to all the town's citizens. As such, the focus is to make spaces available to do things such as activities and events, in addition to providing the more traditional library services. "The trend is for libraries to be a place not just for reading but for doing and making things, she says. Projects that grow a kid's interest and ability in science and technology are what we're guided to offer just now."

"We have a year round calendar of events and programs and our biggest challenge is getting the word out that they're available, that they're free, and that they're fun!" Wheeler adds. The children's programs include story and play time, Krafty Kids, and movie matinees. Adult programs also include movies and craft groups, as well as weekend screenings of sports games, presentations and programs, and a very popular Writers' Night. A popular Sunday night event is high tea (tea and scones) served by a butler while watching Downton Abbey on the big screen. The library's calendar of events is posted on its website http//Effingham.lib.nh.us and on Facebook.

"Not all our residents have access to cable and internet, or to DVDs, books, magazines, computers or fax," says Wheeler. "We have all those available for people here – with the added the comfort of heat and air conditioning. Our laptops can be used by students, for job searching, or for making use of our specialized databases such as Britannica and Ancestry that provide more in-depth information than available on the web. In collaboration with the state library we also offer free downloadable books and audio, and these can be accessed either in the library or at home with a library card."

With support from her team of assistant director Crystal Hoyt and library aide Cristin Harkins, Wheeler says she will be writing future grants to ensure the library meets the needs of the community across all demographics and the ever-changing shifts in how people receive their reading materials and information. "Seeing the library used, especially by the kids, is my biggest joy," she says, "so we will continue to open up more space for activities, to present entertaining and educational programs, and provide books and resources that support our residents."

Effingham Library, located at 30 Town House Road, is open Tuesdays and Thursday between 1 and 7 p.m., and on Fridays and Saturdays between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m..For more information call 539-1537.

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