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Updated: May 27, 2024

How a rural library is working to build connectivity for its community

A wooden pavilion is seen between two buildings and set in a parking lot. Rendering / Courtesy Dan Hester This rendering shows the planned pavilion at the Hiram Cultural Center campus, between Soldiers Memorial Library in front and the Arts Center to the rear in a former church at 8 Hancock.  

A nonprofit library in the small Oxford County town of Hiram has a plan underway to improve internet connectivity for the local and regional community.

A $98,070 grant from the Maine State Library allows for technology upgrades, building improvements, Wi-Fi availability within the entire building and construction of a pavilion just outside the library that will provide a comfortable working environment allowing for power and Wi-Fi access anytime of day.

The volunteer board of directors of Soldiers Memorial Library broke ground earlier this month on the pavilion, at 85 Main St.

The project came about after the board received a grant in 2022 from the Maine Humanities Council to host conversations to determine the needs of the community. 

“It was a 10-month project we called ‘community conversations,’ asking people to come and talk about the needs they see in the town,” Mary Hannaford, the board’s president, told Mainebiz.

The conversations in the community, which has a population of about 1,600, brought to light the need to provide better access to Wi-Fi and technology to further education and work opportunities. Because the community is so rural and lacks public transportation, there was a need for better access to job opportunities and also to better support remote workers, she said.

The town of Hiram's library is in the front building, with a former church located to the rear.
Photo / Courtesy Beth Burnett
Soldiers Memorial Library and the adjacent Arts Center at 8 Hancock, in a former church, comprise the Hiram Cultural Center, a nonprofit formed in 2021 to economically revitalize Hiram Village.

As a result, in late 2023, the board applied to the Maine State Library’s Remote Work through Libraries Initiative grant program.

Through collaboration with the Department of Economic and Community Development the Maine State Library invested $2 million in Maine’s 255 public libraries to expand their capacity to provide targeted resources, services and physical space to support remote and hybrid workers across the state. The program focused on libraries serving communities where access to business centers or coworking spaces were lacking or where there were barriers preventing some remote workers from taking advantage of existing facilities, according to the Maine State Library website.

It’s anticipated that construction of the pavilion will be completed by the end of June. Technology upgrades are underway and electrical upgrades for the pavilion are expected to begin shortly.

It’s expected that the grant will cover the entire cost of the project.

The master of ceremonies at the groundbreaking was Con Fullam, a Maine native, nationally renowned recording artist and founder of Pihcintu, a multinational immigrant and refugee girl’s chorus based in Maine. The event’s speakers were Marijke Visser, director of library development at the Maine State Library and Joshua Howe, deputy executive director of workforce training and remote working at the Harold Alfond Center for the Advancement of Maine’s Workforce.

Contractors on the job include Andy Buck of Custom Timber Frames in Hiram for pavilion construction; Ben Dietrich of Hiram for roofing and patio construction; Brent Anderson of West Baldwin for site work, Patrick Crosscup of SunVersion LLC in Hiram for heat pump installation, Chris Boucher of Wicked Good Electric in West Baldwin for electrical work, and Dan Hester, the board’s treasurer, for technology upgrades.

“A lot of people are starting to realize how robust libraries are,” said Patricia Dietzel, the board’s vice president. “With remote work, you’re very isolated. Libraries give you an opportunity to meet with other people.”

The internet situation in Hiram can be pretty scanty, said Hannaford.

“The library right now has 24/7 access,” she said. “But the library isn’t open more than 16 hours per week, spread over four days.”

Dozens of people per week use the technology both inside and outside the library.

“Almost every time anybody drives by here, they see somebody in the parking area, probably using the Wi-Fi,” said Hannaford.

There have been signals that the number of remote workers in the community has grown in recent years.

“It’s anecdotal, but when a power outage happened this year, several remote workers came to us because this part of town had power,” said Hannaford.

People from surrounding towns also use Hiram’s library. The need for Wi-Fi access includes remote workers, job-seekers, people looking to pursue online education opportunities and people who want training in the technology.

“We have more people coming into the community and they’re able to be here because of remote work,” said Dietzel. “I think it’s starting to build.”

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