CHATHAM – The largest annual fundraiser for the South Chatham Public Library, the summer book and bake sale, didn't happen this year. The process of moving dozens of books from the library across the street to the South Chatham Village Hall proved too difficult and problematic for the mostly older volunteers who usually help out.
That left the “little library that could,” as supporters refer to the 145-year-old institution, with a financial shortfall. Along with donations and bequests, the money needed to cover the library's rent, phone, utility and other costs comes from a $5,100 annual town appropriation and another $1,000 or so from the state.
“That's not a lot of money,” commented library supporter Janine Scott.
To help make up for the deficit created by cancellation of the book and bake sale, the library is sponsoring a fundraiser at the Chatham Orpheum Theater on Oct. 15. The event begins at 10 a.m. and will feature a movie “that involves one of our favorite authors” (they can't announce the title for copyright reasons), as well as door prizes and a Jane Austen trivia game. Tickets are $25 and available now through the Orpheum website.
Nestled next to the South Chatham Community Church at the corner of Main Street and Mill Creek Road, the South Chatham Public Library is independently operated and overseen by a board of directors made up of mostly South Chatham residents. It is not affiliated with the Eldredge Public Library—in fact it predates that institution by a couple of decades—and is not part of the regional CLAMS system. The shelves within the walls of its small building, constructed in 1934, holds just under 4,000 books, checked out by librarian Elayne Perlstein on cards.
“We don't have a computer,” said board member Shirley Smith. The library has between 120 and 150 regular patrons; Perlstein knows the reading habits of most regulars and orders books that will have the widest readership. The library is open Tuesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 p.m. year-round (although Perlstein said they're considering opening just one day a week in the depths of winter).
Several bequests help supplement the library's budget, Smith said, but the book and bake sale generated the biggest chunk after the government appropriations. Like everywhere, expenses have increased. While the library owns the building, it rents the land it is on from the South Chatham Community Church, and the amount was recently raised from $100 a year to $100 a month. The board was looking for a way to replace the income that would usually come from the book and bake sale.
In stepped Scott, Smith's daughter, and Judi Clifford. They'd previously organized fundraisers at the Orpheum, and Smith said the board was glad to have them run with this event for the “little library that could.” The Orpheum was eager to help, said Scott.
“Kevin (McLean, general manager of the theater) is completely delightful to deal with,” she said.
The library's beginnings are as humble as its current quarters. It grew out of Mercelia Evelyn Eldridge looking after books at the “fitting out store” that her father Levi ran at the Deep Hole wharf—which was actually right over the town line in Harwich—around 1874, 21 years before Marcellus Eldredge built the Eldredge Public Library. By 1884, the “Pilgrim Library,” with 515 books, was operating out of Levi Eldridge's store on Main Street in South Chatham, according to a history of the library published in 2000. The name was changed to the South Chatham Public Library in 1889.
The library moved several times over the years. In 1930 a building fund was established; in 1933 the Methodist Church, now the South Chatham Community Church, made land available, and the building was completed in 1934. The library was incorporated in 1975.
The book and bake sale also began around that time. Library officials hope to resume the tradition next August, and plan to reach out to local organizations—like scouts and schools—for help with physically moving the books.
While they both patronize the Eldredge Public Library, Scott and Smith said the South Chatham Library has that small-town feel that is difficult to find these days, and they'd like to keep it alive.
“I think it's a very personal experience,” Scott said. “It really adds to the warmth of the South Chatham community.”
“It's a gem we don't want to lose,” added Smith.
To buy tickets to the fundraiser, go to www.chathamorpheum.org and click on “Buy Tickets Now.” Under “Showtimes,” click on the dropdown menu and choose Tuesday, Oct. 15. Donations can also be sent to the library at PO Box 218, South Chatham, Mass., 02659.