By MARTHA SMITH
Special to the Standard
EXETER – The town’s book-loving residents recall with fondness the one-room Manton Library, located in a corner of town hall with volumes piled in windowsills and everywhere else there was an inch of space.
When patrons checked out a book, the librarian, Kathryn Rhodes, would say, “You really don’t need to return it” because, well, she was inundated with literature. As the popular tee-shirt declares: So many books. So little time.
In 1999, the Friends of the Exeter Library organized to fundraise and support the dream of building a new facility that would be not merely a book repository but also a shining focal point for community activities.
They sold donated books and subscriptions to a membership now numbering 150 with half of those active in the group’s pursuits. Helen Douglas, the group’s president, was in on the ground floor of library planning.
“I was always interested in libraries since I was a kid. They were starting a search committee for the library site” and she volunteered. Dave Zannelli, Friends treasurer, simply says he got involved because, “I was looking to put time into [a public project] and contribute.”
This month the Exeter Public Library, on Ten Rod Road – where the meeting room is nearly always engaged, the children’s section is a source of joyful discovery and computers help people seeking jobs – celebrates its eighth anniversary.
And, after contributing what Zannelli feels is a conservative estimate of $35,000 for library equipment and programs, the Friends will mark a milestone, too.
The group’s final fundraising book sale will be held from 9 a.m. till 2 p.m. Saturday in the Old Town Hall on Old Ten Rod Road behind the Wawaloam School.
The gift of 10,000 volumes from the Newport Naval Education/Training Center, which was closing its library, launched the first sale at the old Ladd School. Events would later be held at the Yawgoo Valley Ski area, Metcalf School and Chestnut Hill Baptist Church.
“We rotated the stock” from month to month, says Zannelli. Books that didn’t sell were marked and set aside. The group also raised money through membership dues and sales of plants, tee shirts and totes.
Having a monthly sale was arduous, says Douglas, because members would haul the books to the site the night before and unpack them then box up and return leftover inventory.
Over the course of years, says Douglas, money generated by the Friends was used to buy large-print and audio books, a projector to show movies, a copy machine and a display unit. The Friends also subsidized summer reading programs that included storytellers, magicians and animals.
During the early sales, “We made $300-500 every month,” recalls Zannelli, who notes that they downsized the sales events to 10 months a year, taking the winter off. Before then, he adds, “I spent most of my time pushing cars out of the parking lot.” Recently, sales have been pared to a bi-monthly schedule, bringing in a total of $1,500 to $2,000.
One of the nicest side benefits, Douglas says, is that the sales have become social gatherings: summer visitors who stay at the shore return each year to pick up beach reading; one 90-year-old man and his son never miss the gathering of bibliophiles.
Donations of items to sell have poured in, too, with individuals contributing and the Friends of the Coventry Library providing additional inventory.
Although there have been what Douglas calls “a few finds” of valuable volumes, “nobody ever told us if they found a rare book.”
In the end, it became a matter of storage space – or rather a lack of it – resulting in fire officials insisting that boxes of books be moved from the library. They were taken to the Old Town Hall.
“It’s kind of sad,” Douglas says of the end of the book sales, “but it’s time to move on.”
Martha Smith is an award-winning journalist and author. Retired, she is an independent contractor for SRIN.