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Groton Public Library celebrates five decades

Groton - When the town's public library opened, with just about 6,000 books in its collection, the head librarian, Martha Hagerty, noticed a problem: People weren't returning the books they checked out.

"One day Mrs. Hagerty asked me and another lady to get in our cars and go knock on doors and try to get our books back," said Donna Clark, who worked in the library full-time in the late-1960s, then part-time through the '80s. "As you can imagine, we had a bit of trouble."

Now, as the library celebrates its 50th anniversary, it has moved to a new building and has more than 130,000 items in its collection. On Monday, it will hold a ceremony to mark its five decades of service to the community.

"We're going to combine a 50th anniversary celebration with the Summer Solstice and also a lullabye picnic for families," said Marie Shaw, who chairs Groton's Library Board. "There's going to be a dedication to a newly planted garden in the back of the library."

In the early 1970s, after earning her bachelor's degree in liberal arts, Suzanne Maryeski - now the executive director of the Public Library of New London - worked in the children's section of the original Groton Public Library.

"I got that job and realized that this was what I wanted to do with my life, and I started taking classes at the University of Rhode Island," Maryeski said.

At the start of her career, the library operated at a slower pace, with fewer programs and less access to the enormous volume of information available on the Internet.

"There weren't computers," Maryeski said. "There weren't the expectations of having so many programs."

As community libraries like Groton's developed, more and more people began to rely on their services and programming, leading the collection and staff to grow.

The original library was constructed at the site of the William Trail School, which was built in 1913.

The library had a mix of new and used shelves and office supplies and retained the ambiance of the original school.

And workplace standards were different then than they are today, said Clark, who worked with the first library employees.

"We had old furniture and everybody smoked at their desk," Clark said. "I didn't, but most of the people there did."

Employees, whose starting salary was $1.97 an hour in the late '60s, often helped students seeking information that today can be found with a simple Google search.

"A lot of time people came in for reference questions, and a lot of time it was for children's homework questions," Clark said. "So we would do our best to help look that all up.

"Sometimes we thought we were helping people win contests on radio, it seemed, with questions like 'What's the tallest mountain in Colorado?'" (Answer: Mount Elbert at 14,433 feet.)

The aging building that housed the original library had heat and structural problems and, in 1971, part of the floor collapsed, injuring 43 people and prompting the town to consider building a new library.

The new library, located in the center of town on Newtown Road, opened in 1977 and was expanded to its current size in 1995.

Since then, it has emerged as a major player in the life of Groton and the community at large. Shaw, the Library Board chair, said some of that has to do with the library's central location.

"But more importantly, it's the staff," Shaw said. "The staff provide just such an incredible array of services, from the youngest of the young to the oldest of the old, from storytimes to computer services. There's well over 100 programs that take place every month that go to all these populations. I think how it outreaches to the community makes it such a vital community service."

The library's executive director, Betty Ann Reiter, also plays a key role in regional library programming, like the One Book One Region program that occurs each summer, Shaw said.

"It takes a lot of work for the whole region to have a selected, quality book to read and the programs that support that book (this summer's selection, 'A Pearl in the Storm,' by Tori Murden McClure)" Shaw said.

"It was Betty Ann who made the contact with the author, invited her to speak, presented her to over 200 people at the Mystic Arts Center."

"In many many ways," Shaw said, "it is the Groton Public Library that is a catalyst to libraries across the region."

If you go:

What: Dedication of the 50th Anniversary Garden

When: 5:15 p.m. Monday, June 21

Where: Groton Public Library, 52 Newtown Road, Groton

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