September 6, 2007
By MEGAN JAMES
WHITING — The Whiting Free Library has no heat, no electricity and no plumbing. Operating out of the town’s old Baptist church pressed right up against Route 30, it doesn’t provide patrons with anywhere to park either. The building is equipped with a small woodstove, but librarian Tammy Wilbur says the ceilings are so high it never really warms up. So for as long as anyone can remember, the library has been open only an hour a week, and during the winter it is always closed.
But all this could change, if Wilbur and a group of library trustees and volunteers get their way.
Inspired by some classes she recently took with the Vermont Department of Libraries, Wilbur decided it was about time to revitalize the old library, open it for more hours during the week and work to transform it into a welcoming community center.
“It’s not that it hasn’t been open, kids have been using it,” Wilbur said. “But if we’re going to really make something of this we have to really jumpstart it a little.”
So that’s what she did this summer. She called the campaign “Treasure Your Library” and sent a letter folded in the shape of a treasure chest to every resident of Whiting, letting them know the library would have new hours and that she needed volunteers.
If she could just draw people into the library, Wilbur said, she might be able to remind them what a valuable resource it is to the town. And it has seemed to work.
Earlier in the summer, Wilbur borrowed a generator from the fire department and recruited a half dozen area teens to help clean out the building, dusting the shelves and weeding out the oldest books in the worst shape.
“We’re trying to get books on the shelves that people really want to read,” Wilbur said. To that end, she and the other volunteers spend a good deal of the summer browsing yard sales and book sales and networking with other librarians who agreed to donate volumes.
By the time the building was straightened up, Wilbur had recruited enough volunteers to open the library four days a week, offering weekly programs like a read-aloud story time with Whiting resident Deb Lendway.
“We got a lot of people this summer who hadn’t been in the library in 20 years,” Wilbur said.
But the library faces legitimate challenges because of its location. The land drops off behind the building, making it a poor location for a parking lot. According to selectboard Chairman Doug Freeguard, it would be very difficult to install plumbing in the old building.
He said selectmen are looking at a couple of long-term options: either move the contents of the library to the old red schoolhouse beside the town office, or move the entire library building to another plot of town land.
“We’ve had a couple of dreams, but they’re all dreams at this point,” Freeguard said. “The closest to move it would be two or three years.”
But Wilbur hasn’t let this discourage her. Her goal for the fall is to keep the momentum going that she kick-started this summer.
On Saturday, Sept. 15, at 10 a.m. the library will host a September Safari, a children’s event including animal stories, animal balloons and animal crafts. And Wilbur is excited for this year’s Haunted Library on Oct. 27, with scary storytelling in the front of the building and a haunted house in the back.
She also wants to get a book club started for adults, so the library isn’t just a place for children, but a center for the entire community.
The library will close again this winter and some of the summer hours have already been scaled back this fall because they conflict with school times. During September, the library will be open Saturday from 9 to 11 a.m., Monday from 4 to 5 p.m. and Thursday from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m.
But Wilbur said she has faith the town will continue to do what it can to keep this project going.
“The town has always stood behind the library,” she said. “They’ve always wanted something right in town for their kids.”