On January 29, 2014, Duncan got lost on his way to Bethlehem Public Library.
You would think he’d know how to get there–CLiF has awarded Bethlehem a Rural Libraries sponsorship three times since 2003. But he walked into the building it shared with the town offices, and there it was… gone.
Turns out this town of 2,500 opened a brand-new, beautiful library, right by the elementary school, in December. And the story of the library is a great story of what a library can mean to a small town, and vice versa.
These are the notes Duncan took from his second visit to Bethlehem in 2008: The last CLiF sponsorship [in 2003] was the spark that turned their library around regarding kids. Five to six years ago they never had kids in the library. The books were all old and worn out. The CLiF sponsorship has led to more users and more support. Now there are always kids in the library.
I asked Laura Clerkin, Bethlehem’s librarian, about what has changed in the library since CLiF became involved, and she said, “It’s just made such a difference in our children’s collection.”
Bethlehem’s current CLiF sponsorship brings it up to the minute, in fact. “The collections you have for us are outstanding,” Laura said. “Our children’s nonfiction collection was getting pretty out of date. With Common Core we’re trying to work on our relationship with the school, and CLiF’s books help us do that.”
This is the goal of the Rural Libraries grant: to improve libraries’ children’s collections and enhance collaboration with the local school and childcares.
But for Bethlehem, the initiative of its librarians and the books and programs from CLiF dovetail with another powerful demonstration of support.
“We were very fortunate,” Laura said. Last year, the library received a bequest of $1.5 million for a new building. The donor was the brother of Muriel Brown, the small town’s librarian for 33 years. The brother had long since moved away, but he was born and raised in Bethlehem, Laura explained, and “he loved his sister. He just saved his money his whole life and wanted to do something with it.” The new library is an honor to his sister’s life work and a powerful resource for the town where they grew up.
Laura said, “One of the big things is we have a community room now so we can hold large programs, and community and nonprofit groups can use the room as well. We’re working very hard at building relationships within the community.”
And that’s where CLiF comes back in–with the first program in the new building. This most recent sponsorship “really has brought different partners in,” Laura said. “We didn’t have a lot of interaction with the elementary school prior, but now with the grant and the storytelling programs and such it really helps.”
When he finally found the new library, Duncan also found a big, comfortable room absolutely packed with eager kids. “When Duncan came, he was able to use the community room,” remembered Laura, “and it was a nice inaugural program for that space.”