FORT KENT, Maine – The new director of Fort Kent Public Library has some innovative plans to provide services he hopes will increase public use of the facility.
Andrew Birden, 58, of Fort Kent replaces previous director Michelle Raymond.
Fort Kent Public Library currently serves between 30 and 40 visitors a day, and offers almost 18,000 items, or four or five books for every man, woman and child in Fort Kent, Birden said.
“Being able to work in a building surrounded by books and people who just want to find out about stuff has got to be the dream job of my childhood,” Birden said. “I loved libraries as a child; I want the Fort Kent Public Library to be a place that people love.”
The library offers much more than traditional books. There are also audio books, eBooks and comics for free digital download. But Birden has even bigger plans for the library than providing reading materials.
“I want to try to make the connection between the library and the community stronger and to find better ways to identify and serve the needs of the community,” Birden said.
He will return child story time sessions to the library, which went by the wayside as so many things did during the height of the COVID pandemic two years ago.
Birden plans to introduce educational programming for people of all ages by bringing in local experts to teach on topics such as gardening, cooking, canning, and woodworking to library patrons.
He would also like to hold meetings where established and budding entrepreneurs can discuss ideas to improve the local economy.
The library currently has only one computer available for patron access. Birden wants to expand that to include a computer station dedicated to job search and resume development.
More unique library offerings Birden is considering are spoken word open mic sessions, music on the porch, and bicycle loans for people who want to enjoy the town’s natural scenery.
He is contemplating the addition of a tool lending library, where people can check out a T- Square, level or hammer they may not have on hand during minor home construction projects.
“I want to try and make the library a hub of information, entertainment, discussion and debate,” Birden said.
Birden said a valuable aspect of public libraries which sometimes goes unrecognized is that the institutes can also serve as a refuge, as it is one of the few public spaces in a municipality where everyone is welcome, free of charge.
“It’s a place where people who spend a little bit more time in their heads can go without being harassed,” Birden said.
Birden has extensive experience in writing and management.
He is a founder and former publisher of the local news site Fiddlehead Focus, which Bangor Publishing Company purchased in 2016.
Birden then became general manager of the BDN’s four Aroostook weeklies — the St. John Valley Times, the Aroostook Republican & News, The Star-Herald and the Houlton Pioneer Times — and websites fiddleheadfocus.com and thecounty.me, until he left the position in 2019.
Prior to founding Fiddlehead Focus, he worked as a reporter for St. John Valley Times, and has since published a book, “Macho Chef: Recipes and Tales for Bold Cooks and The Folks Who Love Them,” based on his Maine Press Association award-winning column.
Birden is not the first member of his family to serve as a librarian in the town. His mother-in-law, Sharon Johnson, previously served as director of Blake Library at the University of Maine at Fort Kent, and his wife, Sofia Birden, currently holds that position.
Library board of trustees chair Jake Theriault said he and his fellow board members are “working towards a modern library that engages all age demographics in the greater Fort Kent area.”
“(Birden’s) background aligns well with increasing the library’s social media presence in the local community and increasing foot traffic to the myriad of library offerings,” Theriault said.
Andrew Birden said he hopes to expand Fort Kent Public Library hours – currently Monday through Friday from noon until 5 p.m.– to include hours one evening during the week and on one weekend day.