2013-04-20 / Front Page

Graves library celebrates 100 years

By JEFF LAGASSE
Staff Writer

Louis T. Graves Memorial Public Library Director Mary Lou Boucouvalas places books on the library's shelves Tuesday. The Kennebunkport library is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. JEFF LAGASSE/Journal Tribune

KENNEBUNKPORT — At the Louis T. Graves Memorial Public Library, employees and volunteers tend to stick around awhile.

Library assistant Kay Beote has been a staff member since the early 1980s. Bussy Badger has been a volunteer for several years, helping to mend books with warped covers and damaged spines. Assistant Judy Merrill, now a staff member, started volunteering at the library when she was still in high school.

But those who keep the place thrumming with life aren't the only flag-bearers for longevity. The library itself has been a mainstay in the community for decades piled on decades ”“ bearing silent witness to two world wars, the disco craze, the fall of the Soviet empire and the information age. When Ernest Hemingway published “The Sun Also Rises” in 1926, Graves was there; when J.K. Rowling unleashed the first of her Harry Potter novels more than 70 years later, Graves had expanded its facilities and acquired a neighboring building.

This year, rather than merely acknowledging the milestones of the community and world at large, the library is the milestone: Graves Memorial turns 100 this year.

After a full century of operation, its roots run deep. Still popular, library director Mary Lou Boucouvalas ”“ a longtime veteran herself ”“ attributes Graves' draw to a consistent and reliable appeal.

“This is where people come when they want to just sit and read,” said Boucouvalas. “It's become a commons of sorts for all ages. It's a place where people can come and be safe, be comfortable.”

Though the library stretches back into the days of Woodrow Wilson, the building itself was built a century before that, in 1813, and housed the Kennebunk Bank, with a Customs District installed on the second floor. In 1831, Uncle Sam bought the building and turned it into a Customs House.

When the Customs District was dissolved in Kennebunkport, a woman named Anne Talbot leased the property and opened it for use as a public library in 1913.

Seven years later, the library acquired its name. Mr. and Mrs. Abbott Graves purchased the building from the government in 1920, and established the building as an ongoing memorial to their late son, Louis T. Graves.

A lot has changed since then.

“The most remarkable change has been the computerization of everything,” said Beote.

In particular, she said, the digital revolution has forever changed the way people search for books among the library's stacks; gone are the card catalogues of old, replaced by searchable databases than can retrieve a volume's call number in a matter of seconds.

E-readers, such as the Kindle and Nook, have brought about changes in how people read. Badger reflected that her husband prefers large-print books, but those editions are more expensive, and harder to find, than their standard-print counterparts. A downloaded book, however, can have its font size adjusted to an individual reader's comfort level, which has in turn ushered in an era of renewed literary interest in the Badger home.

But not all changes to the library were digital. In 1988, building expansions nearly doubled the library's size, allowing it to considerably expand its collection. Graves secured even more space in 1997 when it acquired the adjacent Perkins House, which is now used as meeting space for a number of nonprofit organizations. It's also a permanent home for the library's ongoing book sale: A treasure trove of classics, non-fiction and contemporary works that often sell for as little as 50 cents a volume.

On the heels of additional space came additional programs, such as an apps club, tailored for fans of those quirky digital programs for mobile devices, and the ongoing Pasco Lecture series. Funded in part by the Tabitha King Foundation, and named after late library patron and benefactor Priscilla Pasco, the series features speakers from the literary world, as well as others; on May 17, wine expert Layne Witherell will deliver a talk on buying and tasting wine from across the country.

Of course, not everything has changed, which is good news, particularly for children.

Boucouvalas, who got her start as a children's librarian, said that Graves has always had a commitment to providing resources ”“ and a little inspiration ”“ to the youngsters who walk amidst the colorful stacks and wall murals of the children's room.

Terri Bauld, Graves' current children's librarian and the newest member of the staff, said it's thrilling to be present at the dawn of a child's interest in reading.

“It's encouraging to see there are so many families who read,” said Bauld, “and I like the challenge of helping someone find that just-right book.

“It's the spark,” she said. “If you can get them to realize a book can open up the world to them, that's everything.”

In the end, said Boucouvalas, that relationship between the patron and the library is what has kept Graves so relevant over the past century.

“It's fulfilling when you are able to put the perfect book into the hands of a child or adult, and they come back and say, ”˜What else do you have?' And you start that relationship,” she said.

“That's such a good feeling, to be able to help people.”

— Staff Writer Jeff Lagasse can be contacted at 282-1535, Ext. 319 or jlagasse@journaltribune.com.

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