At DipJar, we love our customers. Knowing our technology is working to support so many meaningful missions is really satisfying. Public libraries are some of our favorites. They’re so much more than book museums. They’re one of the only public spaces open to everyone and where pretty much everything is free. If you haven’t been to your library lately, check it out!
We recently spoke with Joyce Fehl of the Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick, Maine. Joyce is the development and marketing manager for the library, which serves both Brunswick and the smaller community of Harpswell. Not a librarian by training, she started her career in public relations before moving into nonprofits. Curtis was Joyce’s local library when she moved to Maine, and she has been in her position for the past ten years.
It should be noted that Curtis is not a public municipal library in the traditional sense. The Brunswick Public Library Association, founded in 1893, operates the library as a public/private partnership. The original library building was opened in 1904. Many assume that it is a Carnegie-funded library, but they are mistaken. The land and funding came from William Curtis, the son of a local ship captain, who turned down money from Carnegie to build his community’s library himself. That tradition of local support and philanthropy sustains Curtis to this day.
Like many public libraries, Curtis has seen a dramatic change in use and utilization over the past several years. Brunswick is a community of readers, and before the pandemic, the library was seeing more than 1,000 people per day - not bad for a community of just 21,000 people. The library - or partner organizations - ran upwards of 400 programs each year. Those numbers are back on the rise and have almost reached pre-pandemic levels.
In response to Covid, the library had to adapt. It shifted to curbside pickup, provided take-home craft bags for family fun, and increased the number of digital services offered. Laptops and hotspots were offered. The library’s physical art gallery was converted to a digital one that continued to present the work of area artists. Curtis found ways to provide valuable services to its communities.
As restrictions have eased and in-person visits have resumed, Curtis Memorial Library has adapted to this reality too. With foot traffic returning, the power problems (not enough outlets!) that plague many antique libraries became more apparent. The solution? More power stations and a laptop bar. The latter was built of repurposed shelves, thanks to a volunteer who is a master carpenter.
A bookmobile is on its way to the library, and it has joined the Sustainable Library Initiative. Its Library of Things collection includes an extensive collection of tools that can be checked out, and there’s a repair cafe to help people maintain and preserve items of all sorts.
In short, it was (and remains) an active and well-loved institution, but every one of its programs requires private funding. Thankfully, just as the library supports its communities, so its communities support the library.
This happens in so many ways. From an annual campaign to strong support from the business community to the Curtis Society, there are many opportunities for people to support the library and its mission.
The Curtis Friends is a non-profit organization whose mission is to enhance the library’s role as a valued community resource through advocacy, fundraising, and volunteerism. Among its many activities is its operation of Twice-Told Tales, a used bookstore in the heart of Brunswick.
To reach new supporters, Curtis created the Contemporaries Group for people between the ages of 35 and 55. The group started in 2015 and is focused on fundraising, advocacy, and getting younger people back into the library.
Many community members have stepped up and found ways to support the library. In addition to the master wood carpenter mentioned above, others have found unique ways to show their support and love of the library. Sam Sifton, the founding editor of New York Times Cooking is a seasonal resident of the area and was recently featured at a fundraiser at Curtis in conversation with a local food writer.
Charlie Hewitt - an artist from New York who grew up using Curtis Memorial Library - felt frustrated with so much negativity in the world. He decided to create the Hopeful Project. It started with one lighted sign in Portland, Maine. When library staff members saw it, they asked for permission to use it in their fundraising efforts. Charlie not only said, “yes,” but he also donated a sign to the library.
Many channels of support - the bookstore, the Friends, the Contemporaries, board endowments - all add up to a robust multi-tiered approach and one that includes DipJar.
When Curtis Memorial Library decided to go fine-free, the town asked how it would make up the funds. Joyce was responsible for coming up with ideas. She remembered seeing a DipJar at Gelato Fiasco, a local business that sometimes uses the library as a meeting space. She showed and explained the DipJar to Elizabeth Doucett, the library’s director.
With an MBA and an MLIS - as well as a background in marketing and branding - Elizabeth was quick to see the potential. The DipJars are in the lobby, and passing patrons often dip on their way into and out of the library. The Curtis uses them not only to receive direct contributions but also at events and to collect membership fees for the Contemporaries.
“I love the adaptability of the DipJars,” said Joyce. “We’re looking forward to seeing donations made through them grow when they’re moved to our redesigned circulation desk in the fall. It will be easy for the staff to point them out to patrons interested in supporting our special library.”
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