WILMINGTON — John Lubbock, an 18th-century biologist, once wrote: “We may sit in our library and yet be in all quarters of the earth” — a sentiment that rings true at the E.M. Cooper Memorial Library in Wilmington.
It’s a small and cheerful library, perched beside the Ausable River and the Lake Everest Dam in the center of Wilmington with broad views of Whiteface Mountain. Two dogwood trees burst with pink hues on either side of the entrance way, the sloping lawn already a vibrant spring green.
Last Saturday, the library was quiet aside from the gentle tapping of a laptop keyboard. The main room is filled with old portraits and artifacts — a stuffed red fox watches over from one corner opposite a pair of old muskets hanging on the wall. Rows of books surround an enormous chimney at the center of the room, with a deep fireplace on one side, and although it gives the space a rustic, homely touch, the library’s director, Samantha Baer, said the brick hearth is a big waste of space. She wishes she had more room for books.
“We’re kind of running out of room here,” Baer said. “I keep cycling the books in and out too keep things fresh, but a little more space would be nice.”
It’s a little unromantic, but standard library procedure is to oust a book if no one has checked it out in five years, which, on the bright side, makes for an ever-changing landscape of titles, new and old.
But the opportunity to find information, books and resources, doesn’t stop at the four walls of the E.M. Cooper Memorial Library — where the collection, although filled with personality is sometimes lacking in depth — it goes far beyond.
“There’s a world of possibilities, right here,” said Baer, who began working at the library three years ago. “We’ve worked really hard to make it a place where people have access to a huge number of sources.”
The E.M. Cooper Library is part of the Clinton Essex Franklin Library System, which serves 30 different libraries and three reading centers in Northeastern New York, giving them all the opportunity to share their collections.
“We can find just about anything and usually get it here in a week,” Baer said. “There’s nothing to it.”
The library website also links to other resources such as the Northern New York Library Network and Worldcat, which is the world’s largest network of library content offering 1.5 billion items from 10,000 libraries linked worldwide. If you can’t find what you’re looking for there, E.M Cooper also provides access to services like LearningExpress, a database that provides web-based learning, and NOVELNY, an online library of hundreds of magazines, newspapers, maps, charts, research and reference books. And if the ID number on your library card isn’t worn down from sitting unused in your wallet for too long, you can use it to access auto repair, home improvement and small engine repair reference centers, all from the four public computers that line the walls of the E.M. Cooper Library.
“The computers get a lot of use,” Baer said. “Adults use them, and visitors, but especially with the kids.”
Her daughter, Ashleigh, sat fixated on a computer near the entranceway, chiming in every so often as her mother explained the library services.
“I like to read. It’s really fun,” Ashleigh said later, pointing out her favorite book, “The Sea of Monsters,” which is the second in the widely popular Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan.
“I’ve been working really hard these past few years to update our junior fiction collection,” Baer said. “I want to try and grab the kids while they’re young, because they’re the future.” Baer said she plans on starting a book club for 4th- through 8th-grade students. She was also excited to announce E.M. Cooper’s participation in the 2010 Take a Bite out of Books competition, a Jeopardy-style game show based on an assigned reading list, which will take place in July.
“We’re going to have quite a cheering section this year,” Baer said. “I get pretty excited about these things.”
A community place
Along with the near unlimited amount of knowledge available through the library’s services, the E.M. Cooper has held art shows, book readings and signings, and various music programs over the years, mostly events geared toward children. According to Baer the library acts as, in some ways, as a community center for the town.
Behind the quaint building, overlooking the Ausable River as it rushes under state Route 86, sits a small patch of ground where local kids grow vegetables each year as a community project. The project was run under the direction of board member Gail Mitchell who saw that the kids came away with tomatos, beans, peppers, radishes, lettuce, carrots, onions and cucumbers.
“We also have a wonderful children’s section downstairs,” Baer said. “It’s a fun, safe place for the kids to come.”
The children’s section was recently remodeled by a local eagle scout who took on the project of painting the entire basement and adding new shelving, according to Baer.
She continued to help patrons of the library on Saturday afternoon, saying “it’s a small building, with a
lot going.” She said there’s a constant shuffle of people walking through the door — about 100 a day in the winter and 200 in the summer.
A clipboard on the circulation desk is filled with comments left by patrons, with scribbled entries reading things like: “My children love to come here; it’s very educational;” “I wouldn’t know what to do without being able to borrow books;” and simply, “We need libraries.”
“It’s a great asset to the community,” said Karen d’Avignon, president of the Wilmington Library Board of Trustees and a member of the Friends of the Library Committee. “It’s a very small building, but the amount of people who use it is just phenomenal.”
Friends of the Library is a fundraising group established in 1990, according to d’Avignon, with the goal of providing the library with the goal of helping out the library in any way possible. Founding members included Jane Peck, Laura Trumbull, Marles Railton and Delores Forbes, and that first year, Friends raised $1,000 through a variety of fundraising ventures.
d’Avignon said a similar group of citizens came together when the library was first opened in the 1920s to supplement generous donations from E.M. Cooper.
“They held strawberry festivals, sold handmade ice-cream,” d’Avignon said. “In a lot of ways they did what we trying to do now.”
The friends committee holds annual fundraisers such as an annual Holiday Cookies by the Pound Bakesale and another food and bake sale coming up on June 12. Last year they offered salads, Michigan sauce, baked goods, herbs and you guessed it — books.
It’s been a roller coaster ride
The E.M. Cooper Memorial Library is a rich source of information, entertainment and community involvement for Wilmington, but another thing that continues to stand out is the library’s past, which was filled with brutal lows and magnificent highs that seem to linger in everyone’s mind.
Without exaggeration the library’s history involves the vision of one wealthy man to create a legacy for the benefit of children in his native land. It involves the embezzlement of thousands of dollars from the library’s original fund by another man, a distraught banker in the midst of the great depression who would eventually commit suicide.
It’s also the story of a community banding together to raise the funds to rebuild, the excitement of accomplishing that goal, the eventual loss of interest in the 1960s and 70s and then a new town-wide effort to restore and improve the library so it could flourish into its current state.
What’s so interesting is that all of these events, spanning nearly a century, seemed to be a microcosm of larger economic movements in the U.S., reflecting the history of the 20th-century.
“It’s been a real roller coaster over the years,” d’Avignon said, “moving up and down with the country’s economics.”
Jane Peck’s son, Dana D. Peck, who now resides in Plattsburgh, tackled the subject of the library’s history in at 2002 book printed by the board of trustees called “E.M. Cooper Memorial Library: A brief history.” He writes:
“Wilmington’s library embodies a twinkle of a reflection of the history of the 20th Century. Born in the excitement of the roaring Twenties, struggling to survive the difficult years of the Great Depression and World War II, nearly forgotten during the turbulent 60s and 70s; yet, restored and expanded during the prosperous times at the end of the Century.”
Dana said his mother had been asked to gather some information about the library’s history, which is when he became involved with writing the book. Along with a detailed account of the library’s origin — the kind act of E.M. Cooper donating hundreds of books and thousands of dollars — the book shines light on Adeline Jaques, a Wilmington native who spent her first career teaching school in California. Upon retirement in the late 1970s, she moved back to Wilmington and was horrified to see the library closed so she embarked on a second career: community voluntarism.
Another key figure was Frank Carr who was instrumental in the library finally regaining an official charter from New York state, which had been a struggle for years. He passed away last year d’Avignon said, and a flag pole in front of the library was named in his honor.
But, of course, the library’s history includes a huge amount of volunteers and citizens who saw that it flourished throughout the years — too many to name in this article.
Dana Peck’s small book of the libraries history also contains many illustrations, including a photo of “Moving Day,” May 14 1983, when more than 200 Wilmington residents formed a “book brigade” to pass hundreds of volumes, hand-to-hand, from their storage place in the town hall back to a newly renovated library.
“I grew up going to the library and I remember when it was closed all those years,” Dana said. “It’s a neat little library — perfect for a small village in the Adirondacks.”
For more information and to see a full version of the “The E.M. Cooper Memorial Library: A Brief History, 1918 to 2001 visit: www.wilmingtoncooperlibrary.org/
The E.M. Cooper Memorial Library in Wilmington.
Photo/Eric Voorhis/Lake Placid News