A colorful array of titles awaiting new homes during an outdoor book sale at the Orr’s Island Library. (Daniel Hoebeke photo)

Ask 10 people what they like to read and you will get 10 very different answers. This creates a challenge for a local library. The Orr’s Island Library, for example, “only” has room for nearly 10,000 books. What should fill our shelves?

Some decisions are relatively easy. Due to the availability of online resources, the old research standby, Encyclopedia Britannica, has become functionally irrelevant. Other individual books, having languished for more than 10 years since last checkout, can be put out to pasture. Even popular authors, particularly the prolific ones, may require selective weeding. In other words, do we really need 50-plus books by the same author?

After the easy decisions, the book selection process becomes more difficult, largely because the reading public is increasingly diverse. There are the regulars who know their favorite authors, the browsers who will wander until they see something that piques their interest, the summer visitors looking for “beach reading,” people searching our online database of available titles, and those who haven’t set foot in a library for years, believing there is nothing for them there.

Asking for input from all these groups helps to identify guaranteed winners, new authors, emerging trends, and even the expansion of smaller genres. Perhaps not surprisingly, some of our patrons’ observations have greatly strengthened the quality and variety of books we offer.

Tom, a high school teacher, noticed some excellent science fiction books in the book sale last summer and commented that there were very few of that genre on our library shelves. He pointed out that many authors are increasingly popular because people want to read the novel on which a television miniseries is based. Based largely on Tom’s input, our science fiction and fantasy section now includes both classics and contemporary titles.

A display of mysteries at the Orr’s Island Library. (Daniel Hoebeke photo)

The systematic process of removing and adding books is ongoing and is equal parts exciting and painstaking. Librarian Anne Wilkes and her cadre of regular volunteers have taken this challenge to heart. They also use this opportunity to reorganize the stacks so that different genres jump out to the merely inquisitive. As always, though, Anne loves to answer the question, “What’s new?”

Anne has a large wish list when it comes to acquisitions. She begins with recommendations from library patrons that she jots down in her notebook and quickly orders. Then she adds in the results of her own research and voracious reading.

How do we get these new books? Our librarian has an annual book purchase budget of $6,200, which Anne calls “a nice start.” She uses this money for new releases and to fill in notable gaps in our inventory, purchasing from local booksellers to the extent possible.

The rest of our acquisitions come from book donations by Harpswell residents and friends. The value of this generosity cannot be overstated, not only for the books themselves but for the extra effort to collect, package and drop them off. Many of these books are entered into the library database and go directly on the shelves. Others are sold in our year-round used bookstore or at the outdoor book sales. We are always thankful to receive recent titles and older books of specific interest that are in good condition. Opening these donated boxes is, as Anne says, “like having Christmas all year.”

As much as the library would like to accept every book offered, not all are useful to a smaller library. This is painful to a book lover! We ask that you do not donate textbooks, encyclopedias, magazines, reference books, and books in a series such as Time Life or American Heritage. We will unfortunately need to find a way to dispose of them.

Please also note that books that are stained, musty, or moldy, or just plain smell bad, are not only unusable but may also spread mold to good books. Those are best deposited at the Recycling Center.

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I am writing this column under generator power during our March nor’easter. However, spring and summer will soon be here, allowing the library to begin offering a greatly expanded variety of programs for all ages. Check the calendar in the Harpswell Anchor, our new website, or Facebook posts for events that interest you and expanded summer hours. And while you’re at the library, check out a book!

Daniel Hoebeke is the president of the Orr’s Island Library Board of Directors. For more information about the library, go to orrsislandlibrary.org, find the library on Facebook, or visit in person at 1699 Harpswell Islands Road, Orr’s Island.

“Library Connections” is a monthly column that rotates among the three libraries that serve Harpswell: Cundy’s Harbor, Orr’s Island and Curtis Memorial.