The Gleaner
Arts & Life Bygone Places History

Bygone Places – The Little Green miracle

Huntingdon’s Little Green Library is not only one of the community’s best-used assets, it’s the MRC’s only independent library. It is not funded by the Réseau BIBLIO du Québec; it started several years before the Réseau (which offers grants to small libraries) was established. Also, it began as an anglophone library, but not intentionally, simply because its founder, Sarah Evett, who had recently moved here from Chicago, didn’t know enough French at the time to catalogue titles or advertise in that language.

That beginning, however, led to the Little Green Library being one of the only public libraries in the province to have half its collection in English. It never joined the Réseau, says long-time volunteer Jo-Anne Craft, “partly because we were already operating, but also because we were afraid if we did, we wouldn’t be able to maintain the same quality and quantity of books in English.” Most libraries in the Réseau have very few English titles.

Evett says she thought of founding a public library back in June 1972 because “I wished there was one here in the Valley, and I figured if I thought that, probably others would join me.” She was pregnant with her first son when she and her then husband, Ritchard Raxlen, rented a dilapidated storefront at 83 Chateauguay Street in Huntingdon.

To spruce it up, she painted the interior walls green, dubbing it “The Little Green Library.” She then put an ad in The Gleaner, announcing a meeting for anyone interested in helping out. “Books and people came pouring in from the very beginning!” she says. “At least five ladies from the Masonic Lodge, active ladies in the community, came to the first meeting. Ten came to the next, and after about four months of us paying the rent, the library got a bit of funding from Huntingdon.” One of the earliest helpers was Keitha MacIntosh, who manned the desk from the beginning. Evett left that fall to take care of her new baby. However, she received a special life membership plaque in 1982 for her contributions to both the francophone and anglophone communities. “It was always my dream for that library to be bilingual,” she says.

In only three years, the library grew enough to need to move. It went to locations in the Huntingdon Academy, but after just three years, there was a desire for a more neutral space and better hours. At this point, École Arthur-Pigeon offered to take over the French collection (now numbering in the thousands); but the Little Green Library members wanted to remain a bilingual full-community service.

 

Little Green Library founder Sarah Evett was photographed in front of the library’s original location on Chateauguay Street in Huntingdon for a Gleaner article published June 21, 1972. PHOTO The Gleaner archives

 

The town of Huntingdon paid the rent on a third spot, 93 Chateauguay Street, where the library stayed until 1979. When that building went up for sale, library volunteers worked out a clever scheme to purchase their own building, the former Church of the Nazarene, at 6 Hunter Street. They went to the public for interest-free bonds and donations. After two decades there, in 2003, then-president Jo-Anne Craft started talks with the town about a larger location. The mayor of Huntingdon at the time, Stephane Gendron, offered an ideal space for only one dollar a year, in a former Cleyn & Tinker building.

Long-time volunteer Jeanne Smith remembers how “The firemen came and moved us from the old building,” and unexpected help came from all kinds of sources. “We got an endowment for $15,000 a year from a lady, Jesse Reyser, who always wore a red coat and scarf and used to come in regularly, we thought to keep warm! To our surprise, she left a large amount of money to us as well as to the hospital. That’s how we paid the bonds back.”

Despite all the volunteer hours by builders and by those handling the book inventory, by 2018 the library couldn’t get along on just membership fees. Craft says, “There are really nice libraries in Saint-Anicet, Sainte-Barbe, Saint-Chrysostome – all part of the Réseau BIBLIO du Québec, but they are nearly all in French.” The Réseau is an agreement between municipalities of less than 5,000 people and the province to create libraries. Each municipality oversees funding the building, maintenance, and budgeting for books. “Quebec supplies two-thirds of the book inventory on a rotational basis; each library gets the loan of a shipment of the same books for four months” says Craft.

However, the Little Green Library was accustomed to acquiring its own books, something it wanted to still do, if only to maintain the English collection. “We wrote to each town in the MRC and said we will give your town free membership for certain minimum donations,” says Craft. Franklin and Dundee agreed, “but the rest still have to have a membership card. Huntingdon only has to pay a dollar because of its donation of the building.” She adds, “We would like to offer free membership to Elgin, Godmanchester, and Hinchinbrooke, too.” She hopes those councils will offer enough donations to make this possible.

Locals know the library well: its view of the river, soft chairs, and cozy sections. There are movies to rent and used books to buy. During the pandemic, it was open four days a week; it will soon, once again, host events and programs. Craft says, “We had movie night in fall, spring, and winter, once a month; children’s summer programs like a kids’ book club on Monday nights; an area for a gallery with local artists displayed. Computers are normally available to anyone; they don’t have to be a member. People can even reserve or renew their books from home.”

After fighting to acquire and then keep its French collection, and after inventing its own business model to hold onto its English books, today the library inventory sits right at half-French, half-English. The same can be said of the 23 current volunteers, like Dan Pommenville, Jennot Theoret, Brenda Carpenter, and Pauline Leduc, and those now gone, like Louise Charlebois, Evelyne Latreille, Ola Proudfoot, and so many more.

Although this library has truly been a community-wide project for over half a century, there has been little top-down funding or support; that it is still thriving is a little miracle in itself. Craft, head of the English collection, like every volunteer, loves libraries and says in her job she gets to do what every bookworm loves: “Buy books! I also get to know people and their pace, to choose books based on what I know about them and what I think they’d like. If I recommend it and they do like it, that makes me feel really good.”

Hours and activities will expand as pandemic restrictions lift, so check with the website www.pbv-lgl.org, or call (450)264-4872.

 

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