HOLDEN — The Gale Free Library has had thousands of residents browse its stacks, participate in programs and admire the building.
Some learned of the magic within early and grew attached. Such is the story of Wachusett Regional High School senior Olivia Curtis and junior Brynn Pinkes. From a young age, the two started attending the library with their families. Books brought stories home for them as children, and new stories awaited when they grew older.
Now they are volunteering, playing a role in keeping their library going and books organized.
“I have been going to the Gale Free Library for as long as I can remember,” Brynn said. “With my mom being a stay-at-home mom, we were always looking for things to do in the community together, from reading books to playing with the puzzles at the library. My earliest memories at the library are of admiring the large wooden dollhouse they had in the children’s room, and seeing the new miniatures they would place in every time I visited.”
“My trips to the library began before I can even remember,” Olivia said. “My mother would take my brothers and me to the library as toddlers, and we would fill up a book bag with the picture books we wanted for that week. I remember particularly enjoying the Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel.”
“I can still see the children’s room as it was when I was young,” Olivia added. “In the window was a large doll house around which sat chairs for the parents. There was also a fake wooden boat in the center of the floor. I have memories of playing with both of those while my mother would talk to the librarian or the other parents.”
Olivia said that “the library was always a giving place; there were friends there, there were toys, and there were books you could take home and read with your family. I have one memory of realizing that we forgot to bring a book back and being so upset because I knew that the library was not a place from which we take things and don’t return them. Even at a young age, I wanted to respect the library because of what it had already given me.”
“As I grew up, I matured along with the books I read,” Brynn said. “I started in the picture books and went up to read the junior series books. My whole family has always been avid readers; we would take weekly trips to the library and fill our library tote bag to the brim with new selections for all of us.”
“When I was in elementary school, I relied on my school library more than the town library,” Olivia admitted. “When I entered middle school, the (Gale) library again became a frequent destination. Sometimes my family would go together, but more often than not it was just me and one of my parents. There were times when I would have a specific book in mind that had been recommended to me, and other times I would spend half an hour looking through the shelves, grabbing books that caught my attention, and taking three or four homes with me at a time.”
Olivia said she remembers participating in programs like the Teddy Bear Picnics, the Fancy Nancy picnic, and the summer reading programs. “I remember the pride of achieving my summer reading goals and the fun that I had at the picnics, taking part in a community event that brought so many kids together.”
Years later, the events gave her a different view.
“As a volunteer, I attended the Teddy Bear Picnic last summer, bringing my young cousin. To see that same event from a different perspective was to understand just how meaningful it can be for the kids and just how much work the library puts into events like these that connect the community,” Olivia said.
“When I was in elementary school, I was obsessed with the plethora of different series of books available,” Brynn said. “I would speed through series with what seemed like endless books, like The Puppy Place Series, Judy Moody, The Boxcar Children, and later on the Percy Jackson and Hunger Games books. As I got older, I would simply browse the shelves of the teen and adult fiction books looking for anything with a brunette lead and an enthralling plot.”
The library came to mind when each wanted to volunteer in the community as teens.
“I originally started to volunteer to earn community service hours for the National Honor Society, but I fell in love with the tranquility and aura of the library that I had so missed in the past few years with COVID and high school responsibilities,” Brynn said. “Kevin and Kayla, librarians at the Gale Free, have been such wonderful mentors to me throughout my whole time there. I have been volunteering since October of 2021.”
She started volunteering at 15, the minimum age required to volunteer. The two help with chores such as organizing and reshelving.
“I organize and reshelve returned books in the children’s department,” Brynn said.
“As a volunteer, I am responsible for putting items back on the shelves and collecting the items that are on the pull list (the items that have been put on hold). When I first started volunteering, I was responsible only for putting away the picture books. As I became more acquainted with the children’s room and the specific locations of other collections, it became my responsibility to put away all items that come back to us. I also collect the items that have been put on hold and bring them down to the front desk.”
That helps the staff, explained Kevin McDonough, director of youth services.
“Olivia started volunteering at the library in the Dawson School in the fourth grade,” he noted.
“We rely on the volunteers,” McDonough said of the important role they play. “It gets very busy here.”
McDonough said it takes a few years to train volunteers. It is not something where one walks in and can do the job.
“There is more to it than just putting books away,” he said.
Having volunteers “completely frees us up,” allowing staff to handle things like displays. “It’s a job that requires you to be thoughtful and have the ability to think on your own,” McDonough said.
He said the library is always open to volunteers; many come from the Honor Society, and anyone can fill out an application.
For Olivia and Brynn, the library has helped them over the years.
“The library grounds me; it gives me a place to be reading something physical in my own two hands, but be in a completely different world in my mind,” Brynn said. “The library gives me a place to unwind and find peace and stability.”
“The library has always been the place that I’ve come back to amid the stressors of school and a world that’s more online-focused,” Olivia said. “It seems that students are spending more and more time online. As the pressure to be ‘logged-on’ grows, it becomes more and more difficult for people to take a break, expand other hobbies, focus on homework, or simply escape from the real world for a short time.
“Not only that, but the library has study spaces, which minimize distractions and allow students to turn off their phones and focus better on their work. I’ve utilized these spaces before when work became overwhelming.”
“I wish more students would use the town libraries,” Olivia said. “The young adult section at the Gale Free Library has undergone numerous changes recently…. New books are always on display, in addition to board games and study areas. There are also numerous young adult reading programs.”
Brynn uses the library to check out books for her own enjoyment, as well as using DVDs for the film club she runs at Wachusett. “I can browse a wide variety of films to better expand my knowledge of movies in order to pick the best ones to watch and discuss with the club.”
The two volunteers also appreciate the hometown connection.
“The library is such a comfort to me seeing how it is in my hometown and I have grown up along with it. It is great to see the library stay up to date with a constantly changing society,” Brynn said.
“Part of the reason that the Gale Free is so important to me is because I visited it when I was so young and have used it as a resource throughout my childhood,” Olivia said.
“A place like that can often mean something more to you than a place that you only just started visiting in the last few years. I’m proud that I can give back to my town through the library given how important it has been to so many Holden residents and its historical significance for the town,” Olivia said.
In the future, Brynn said, “I can see the library having more of an appeal to a younger age group” with the expansion of the young adult floor. “I hope to see more people discover how much the library has to offer.
“It’s always wonderful to see parents exposing their children to reading. It’s great to see so many young kids finding joy in small things like playing or reading at the library in a safe space. I see just how much kids can grow and learn from exposure to stories from all kinds of people, and I have high hopes for future generations,” Brynn said.
“I hope that the library will continue to thrive in the future,” Olivia said. “I see so much work being put in by the librarians to make the library accessible and to ensure that it keeps up with the changing times. People can borrow audio books, use the library’s printer using any of the available computers, and even borrow books online.
“In many ways, the integration of technology into so many aspects of the library has helped to make it more accessible. I also hope, however, that people will continue to visit the library, peruse the shelves, take part in its programs, and speak with its librarians. Our librarians put so much effort into making the library a resource for the town,” Olivia said.
“In the library, it always seems to me that people interact with one another in a friendly way. Doors are frequently held, offers of help are extended, and conversation comes easily,” Olivia said. “People who visit the library often relate to one another through their appreciation of reading, and it creates an environment of connectedness and geniality.
“I think that, apart from the obvious resources that the library provides, like books and computer access, people get from the library a sense of belonging to a community that supports them.”
Getting back into the library again helped Olivia get out of a reading slump.
“During the beginning of the pandemic, I fell into a reading slump that lasted just about through the summer of 2021. I struggled to focus on a book long enough to get through it.”
She borrowed through the outdoor pickup service, but still found it challenging.
“It wasn’t until the library reopened and I began volunteering again around the beginning of the summer of 2021 that I was able to get out of my reading slump,” Olivia said.
“Getting back into the library meant moving back into activities that had been put on hold during the beginning of the pandemic, and it helped me move forward. As we continue to deal with the pandemic in 2022, I encourage people to visit the library, spend time there, and return to reading if it is an activity that you have allowed to fall by the wayside,” Olivia said.
“The library has been a part of Holden for over a century, and it has adapted again and again to fit the changes we see taking place in society. We should all take the time to appreciate that change and give back to a resource that we often take for granted.”