The cover of Tracy Kidder’s “Rough Sleepers: Dr. Jim O’Connell’s Urgent Mission to Bring Healing to Homeless People.” Curtis Memorial Library is partnering with other community organizations to sponsor a Community Read of “Rough Sleepers” and a series of events focusing on homelessness.
Likely the first thing one thinks about in contemplating the mission of a public library is the collection and dissemination of books. Curtis Memorial Library accomplishes that and then some. I am always thankful and amazed at how many ways the library has found to assist us in procuring reading material of all kinds, from bestselling rentals to interlibrary loans to e-books. This year’s debut of an electric bookmobile, which travels to different neighborhoods throughout Brunswick and Harpswell, is only the latest method the library staff members have devised to support readers.
Perhaps something we don’t consider as much, but which is equally, if not more important, is how invested public libraries are in supporting community building. This is also something that Curtis does exceedingly well.
The library’s significance in this regard was recognized as early as 1904, when upon the dedication of the then-new building, the Brunswick Record reported how our institution was a “mark of progress,” a “thoughtful earnest influence in the growth and development” of our communities, offering an overall “uplift.” As a relevant aside, we are only able to access the archives of the Brunswick Record through the Curtis Memorial Library, which secured grant support and private funding to have them digitized.
And, as the library’s 140th anniversary year draws to a close, it is further demonstrating its commitment to community work through this fall’s Community Read project. Partnering with All Saints Parish, Housing Resources for Youth, Southern Midcoast Housing Collaborative, and Catholic Charities Maine, Curtis Memorial Library has been sponsoring a series of events that revolve around Tracy Kidder’s bestselling book “Rough Sleepers: Dr. Jim O’Connell’s Urgent Mission to Bring Healing to Homeless People.” Kidder documents the five years he spent with O’Connell and his colleagues as they cared for Boston’s unhoused population.
While the number of people without housing in Boston is much larger than in Maine, our state is also seeing a sharp rise in those who are considered chronically homeless, which renders this project particularly timely and urgent.
Free copies of Kidder’s book have been disseminated, multiple copies are available to borrow, and various book groups have been discussing the implications of O’Connell’s work. In addition, the library has hosted germane films, such as “Maine Voices of Homelessness” and “Lessons from the Streets: Three Decades Caring for Boston’s Rough Sleepers,” which features a talk by O’Connell.
Early November will feature a panel of area service providers talking about the community organizations that aid unhoused people and other vulnerable populations. If you read this in time, you may be able to catch the Nov. 9 panel discussion at St. John’s Community Center, “What More Can We Do?” with Maine Sen. Mattie Daughtry; Greg Payne, of the Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future; and Teague Morrie, director of outreach for U.S. Sen. Angus King.
And if you do miss these events, it is never too late to borrow a copy of Kidder’s book.
Happy 140th to the library, a library that has been circulating books and ideas and congregating citizens — for free — since 1883!
Curtis Memorial Library provides free library cards to Harpswell residents, year-round and seasonal. Lisa Botshon, a professor of English at the University of Maine at Augusta, chairs the library’s board of directors.
“Library Connections” is a monthly column that rotates among the three libraries serving Harpswell: Cundy’s Harbor, Orr’s Island and Curtis Memorial.