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Sussex Countian
  • Appoquinimink Library marks 50 years as public lending institution

  • The Appoquinimink Library has been lending out books for free since 1963, but its history goes back much further.
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  • The older you get, the more tempting it becomes to fib about your age.
    So it's understandable if some longtime Middletown residents were skeptical when the Appoquinimink Library celebrated its 50th anniversary on July 2.
    "Well, it is true that there's been a library in Middletown – in one form or another – for more than 100 years," explained adult services librarian Susan Hengel. "But it didn't become a true public lending library until 1963, so from that perspective, we're still only 50 years old."
    According to state records, the New Castle County-run library in the Pettinaro office complex at 651 N. Broad St. can trace its roots back to 1901 when the Middletown New Century Club launched the town's first paid membership library.
    That building, located near the Everett Theatre, was destroyed by a fire in 1922, and the library briefly moved to a new home on South Broad Street before closing in 1926.
    For decades afterwards, library services in the area were provided exclusively by bookmobiles operated by the New Castle County Free Public Library.
    It wasn't until July 1963 that the library finally re-opened, this time at the Old Academy Building on North Broad Street under the auspices of the Appoquinimink School District.
    For the first time, books were lent out for free to anyone who lived in the district, while those who lived elsewhere were required to pay a $1 annual membership fee.
    About 150 books were lent out in just the first week of operation, according to an article published in the Middletown Transcript on July 11, 1963.
    "We've definitely grown a whole lot since then," Hengel said this week. "These days, I'd say we probably lend out about 150 books in an hour."
    In the last year, the Appoquinimink Library averaged about 8,200 patron visits per month, with an annual circulation of 186,327 items. That's roughly the equivalent of every one of the library's 62,500 books, periodicals, audio books, DVDs and music CDs being checked out at least three times.
    In addition to lending media, the library also hosts numerous community programs and activities, including a family film night, a Lego club, a knitting circle, a quilters group, financial literacy classes, e-book tutorials, a book discussion group and the wildly popular Summer Reading Club for students.
    "We currently have 680 children registered for our Summer Reading Club, which breaks the record we set just last year," said library specialist Barbara Keesey.
    The Appoquinimink Library was moved to its current, 11,000-square-foot location in 2007, after spending nearly a decade at Middletown High School.
    Several years ago, New Castle County developed a proposal to merge the existing library into a 25,000-square-foot regional facility to be built just north of Middletown by 2014, followed by the addition of a new community library in Townsend by 2016.
    Page 2 of 2 - However, county officials now say those plans are unlikely to come to fruition.
    "It's probably not going to happen," County Executive Tom Gordon said this week. "What we might do instead is [build] a community library near the growth area north of Middletown and keep the Appoquinimink Library where it is. Smyrna is talking about building a library too, and it's possible the community might be better served with three smaller libraries rather than one large one, but we're still in the early discussion phase and anything is possible."
    New Castle Councilman Bill Powers (D-Townsend) said he supports the idea of keeping the Appoquinimink Library in Middletown.
    "It changes with each administration, but in recent years there's been a push to move it out of Middletown," he said. "I'm fighting to keep it right where it is, because there are a lot of kids in these neighborhoods who depend on the library and won't be able to access it if it's outside of town."
    Regardless of where it's located, principal library assistant Mary Borecki said the library will continue to hold a special place in her heart.
    "Other people talk about having a bucket list; well, I have a barrel list and it's full of all the books I want to read," said Borecki, who was hired as a page in 1989 and since become the library's longest-tenured employee. "What makes the library great is that it's a place for people like me who are enthusiastic about their love of reading and want somewhere they can go to talk about books or to find the latest work by a certain author. I think that's why it's been here so long and why it will continue to be an important part of the community."
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