FARMINGTON — The original New Sharon library has drawn a steady stream of visitors this week at the Farmington Fair.
Library trustees moved the building to the fairgrounds last year, then fairgrounds staff repaired the original horsehair plaster, did some painting and added a ramp for easy access.
On Monday, hundreds of Franklin County elementary school students, teachers and their chaperones visited as volunteer docents explained how a library in the mid-1800s was run. Children giggled in disbelief when they learned that patrons had to present handwritten requests to the librarian before they could take a book home.
Diana Oliver, New Sharon library director, showed them the list of rules that all patrons had to follow and explained how the library was started.
“We call this our LOL, which means “Little Old Library,” and it has quite a story to tell,” she said.
In the late 1850s, voters in the town matched a donor’s $500 and opened the library with 160 books. There was no formal library building, so books were housed in private homes and carried to different locations so patrons could see them.
Members of the library bought their own books and chose them with great care, according to Oliver. Two sets of books were donated in 1862, and those remain in careful custody at the Jim Ditzler Memorial Library in New Sharon. They include “A Record of Massachusetts from 1628-1644” and “The Plymouth Colony Records.” Both sets are popular resources for genealogists and researchers.
“People really held on to books,” she said. “They took good care of them.”
Trustees found a handwritten list of the books in 1862 collection, and they have managed to recreate the first card catalog.
Before the Dewey Decimal System first was used in 1876, the library’s books were filed in a simple and practical manner. The original catalog of books listed each by a specific set of letters and numbers that told patrons what bookcase, shelf and number associated with each volume.
The library rules required books with loose binding to be “repaired with a good quality of mucilage” before the book was returned.
Visitors in the library during fair week are allowed to take many of these books off the shelves to open and read. “The Rover Boys in Business” was one of The Rover Boys Series for Young Americans, written by Arthur M. Winfield. Other books in the collection were more graphic and provided a look at the country’s history.
“Chicago’s Awful Theater Fire” provided readers with dozens of photographs of the 1903 Iroquois Theatre fire. At that time, it was the deadliest single-building fire in the country’s history. Records indicate that at least 602 people died as a result of the fire, and the pictures left viewers with little doubt that the event was catastrophic.
The trustees continue to preserve the library’s history.
“We want to eventually make a list of the librarians who have served since it started,” Oliver said.
On Tuesday, trustees and volunteer docents Michelle Winslow and Forrest Bonney showed visitors where the original bookcases stood and where the small single room was enlarged as the library expanded. It also served as the office for a local attorney at one time.
When a donor gave the town its current home, trustees were concerned that the building on Route 2 would not be preserved. The Franklin County Agricultural Society agreed that the building would fit nicely among the other historic structures and displays, including the Red Schoolhouse, the Western Maine Blacksmiths and the Agricultural Museum.
Winslow said the building restoration project will continue, with the installation of the old wood stove into the nonworking chimney.
The trustees accept donations and will give visitors tours from 10 a.m. to 4-.m. through Saturday, when the fair ends.
New Sharon Town Librarian Diana Oliver talks with a boy at the Farmington Fair on Tuesday about how libraries began as small collections of books that were shared among townspeople. The original New Sharon Town Library and some of its original collection were moved to the fairgrounds this year. (Valerie Tucker photo)