Librarian Anne Wilkes in the Sue Fisher Moren Memorial Reading Room at the Orr’s Island Library. (Pam Berry photo)
Sparkling spring sunshine pours through the windows of the beautifully appointed Sue Fisher Moren Memorial Reading Room in the Orr’s Island Library. Nearby, a box of donated books waits to be sorted. An elderly patron is on the library’s public computer, checking his email.
Librarian Anne Wilkes is seated in a comfortable chair talking about her favorite authors. Her knowledge of William Faulkner’s work is clearly voluminous. She lists Edith Wharton, along with Tolstoy, Trollope and Edna St. Vincent Millay. “I stare at her island — Ragged — every day.”
But her dark eyes really brighten when she starts outlining her numerous plans for a community cornerstone that was established in 1905 and now boasts a collection of 7,402 books and 1,674 DVDs.
“The role of a library like ours is to consistently serve all of the community with a variety of resources,” Wilkes says. “Our community has such a great wealth of skills, interests and talents, across the spectrum. To tap into as many of these as possible, I see as a key component of our library.”
Wilkes, 36, has been librarian for almost six months. She stepped into the role at a challenging time, after the library had parted ways with longtime Librarian Joanne Rogers and had temporarily closed.
Daniel Hoebeke, president of the nonprofit library’s board of trustees, said Rogers had “served admirably,” adding: “We thought the library was well positioned to expand services to the Harpswell community beyond longtime users, and we were looking for the person best able to accomplish that goal.”
So far, Hoebeke said, Wilkes has “greatly exceeded our expectations.” He pointed to 30 new library cards that were issued in the first three months after Wilkes took over library operations.
“She also has pulled in a ton of volunteers, and that is absolutely vital,” Hoebeke added. “We are tapping into a tremendous amount of expertise from newcomers and longtime residents of Harpswell.”
Wilkes was born in Virginia and raised in a house built on the site of a Civil War fort that was part of the outer defenses of Washington, D.C. She recalls playing in a former gunpowder magazine replete with graffiti and signatures left by Union soldiers.
Her family ties to Harpswell date back to the 1840s, when members of her mother’s family first came to summer in Maine. They initially had a place on Potts Point and later bought another cabin elsewhere on Harpswell Neck. In 1985, her late parents purchased a little compound of cottages at the southern end of Orr’s Island, where Wilkes lives today.
She graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2010 with a degree in real estate and land development and went to work for her father’s real estate firm. But there already was a family connection to libraries through her maternal grandparents.
Her grandfather, Niels Henry Sonne, served as head librarian of the General Theological Seminary in New York City and was a highly regarded expert on the Gutenberg Bible. Her grandmother, Grace Joline Sonne, also worked as a librarian in New York.
Wilkes ultimately moved to Orr’s Island full time during the pandemic and started volunteering at the library in late 2020. She digitized the library’s catalog and subsequently joined the library’s board of trustees in 2022. She resigned from the board when its job search identified her as a leading candidate for librarian. She started in the new role on Dec. 1.
Since then, Wilkes has focused on adding volunteers and programming, building connections with libraries in Brunswick and Cundy’s Harbor, and beefing up and adjusting the library’s collection. For example, she’s working to bring more contemporary Maine authors out of the Robert M. York Maine History Room and into the Moren Memorial Reading Room.
The push for volunteers has paid off with enough trained people joining the ranks to allow the library to expand its hours. Starting this month, Hoebeke said, the library will be open Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Friday from noon to 7 p.m.
Linda Roesler, a new Harpswell resident, said she decided to volunteer because the library offered a way to meet her neighbors and because of her lifelong love of books. “Anne is very easygoing and fun to be around and I would really like to help her create her new vision for the library,” Roesler explained.
The schedule of the library’s event programming is also expanding. The preschool reading hour (10-10:45 a.m. on Tuesdays) started last month, along with First Thursday educational presentations at 7 p.m. Chewonki’s natural history program for kids is slated for four consecutive Wednesdays in July. The annual Book Sale and Library Fair will be held Aug. 2-6, along with Books on the Lawn events.
Wilkes is eagerly anticipating an appearance by Massachusetts Institute of Technology physicist and author Alan Lightman, a part-time Harpswell resident, at a date to be determined this summer. Check the library’s newly updated website (orrsislandlibrary.org) for more information.
“I’m excited about the future of the library,” Wilkes said. “The enthusiasm of the community is invigorating. Lots of positive feedback makes everything easier. There’s lots of work to do, of course, but then, Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
Doug Warren, of Orr’s Island, retired from a career as an editor at the Portland Press Herald, Miami Herald and Boston Globe. He serves as vice president of the Harpswell News Board of Directors.