$1.8M grant will help Caribou library expand into a technology hub

2 weeks ago

CARIBOU, Maine — Caribou Public Library will undergo its first renovation since 1960 and transform into a more technology-based center for local residents.

The library is one of 12 community centers across Maine that were recently awarded Connectivity Hub grants from the Maine Connectivity Authority, ranging from $250,000 to nearly $2 million.

Caribou’s library’s $1,847,528 grant will cover all costs of renovating and expanding its current space to include 15 computers and public and private video conferencing rooms.

Demand for technology has grown at the library. Last fall, staff launched the Maine State Library’s Remote Connectivity Program, which allows patrons to borrow a mobile hotspot router and laptop. Since then, about 15 people monthly have checked out those materials, everyone from remote workers to new arrivals to Caribou and senior citizens, said Library Director Peter Baldwin.

Though the library is still well-known for its book and historical archives, computers remain the most sought after tool when people visit. But right now the library has only six computers, which makes things difficult for patrons during busier times.

“In any week, at least 100 people use our computers and there’s quite a few who come here to use our WiFi with their own equipment,” Baldwin said. “This grant will allow us to meet people’s needs and give them much more than we could on our own.”

CARIBOU, Maine — July 3, 2024 — Jonathan Thompson of Perham has been using free computers and WiFi at Caribou Public Library to search for jobs. (Melissa Lizotte | Aroostook Republican)

Built in 1910 as one of 20 “Carnegie libraries” in Maine, funded by Andrew Carnegie, Caribou Public Library last received a major renovation in 1960. That year, the back of the library building was expanded to include the basement archives, a larger main floor and a 650-square-foot loft with more space for the library’s nonfiction bookshelves.

With the Maine Connectivity Authority grant, the library will extend the loft to create a full second floor with a 15-by-24 conference room that will have TVs, cameras and microphones for video conferencing, as well as two private telehealth rooms and new computers for public use.

The larger upstairs space will benefit community groups that already meet at the library; expand upon the library’s Access Point for older adults, a partnership with Aroostook Agency on Aging; and expand the library’s monthly National Digital Equity Center classes, which teach computer and smartphone basics.

“We’ve seen quite a few new people sign up [for the Digital Equity classes], mostly older adults but also some who are working on their resumes,” Baldwin said. 

The nonfiction book collection will remain upstairs but will be moved to accommodate the renovation. Library staff will also move several first-floor bookshelves to create a larger computer-oriented space, Baldwin said.

That’s good news for regular patrons like Jonathan Thompson of Perham. 

Thompson has been using the library’s computers recently to search for jobs. Due to vehicle issues, he has been riding his bicycle to Caribou, where the library has more reliable WiFi.

“[The Connectivity Hub] will definitely be helpful,” Thompson said. “[The library] is the most convenient place to go. There’s no career center in Caribou.”

Baldwin expects to go out to bid for contractors later this year and hopes that renovations will start no later than next spring.

Other organizations to receive Connectivity Hub grants in Aroostook include the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, $1,247,639; and Aroostook Agency on Aging, $400,989. Grant recipients must complete their projects by August 2026.