Robert McArthur


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A Brief History

Biddeford was one of the first cities in Maine to enjoy public library service; its first library was a city department and occupied a room in the City Building. When the City Building burned in 1894, the Mayor recommended that a private association assume the responsibility of maintaining a public library for the benefit of the city’s residents. With seed money willed to the association by Elizabeth Stevens, a retired employee of the Laconia mills, and the energy of Robert McArthur, an Agent of the Pepperell mills, the association bought the former Pavilion Congregational Church at 270 Main Street and dedicated the McArthur Library in October of 1902.

            Robert McArthur himself was an Irish immigrant who had started working in a Rhode Island mill as a bobbin boy at the age of eight. He was a self-educated man whose belief in the importance of a public library to provide all citizens with opportunities for advancement was so strong that he gave both the funds to purchase the library’s current home and monies to provide for its maintenance—a gift that was repeated by both of his daughters, Jane Owen and Lydia McArthur.

The City of Biddeford’s continued annual support of the library and its services means that McArthur Library is one of the oldest tax-supported libraries in New England, and the oldest in the state of Maine.

Thanks to the City, the McArthur family, and other generous supporters, McArthur Library now offers community members access to some 65,000 book volumes, 170 magazine subscriptions, 1500 music cassettes or CD’s, 2,000 VHS tapes or DVD’s, and 1500 audiobooks on either cassette or CD. We also have 15 public access computers with the Internet, learning games, and Microsoft Office software—and building-wide free wireless Internet access. A treasure unique to McArthur Library is our glorious collection of antique photographs of the city and surrounding areas.

We offer year-round weekly story programs for infants through preschoolers at no charge, and in the summer we add our now-legendary Summer Reading Club for school-age kids and teens to our services. Our recently acquired laptop lab has been used for hands-on classes for both adults and kids in computer basics, Internet searching, and access to electronic resources provided by both McArthur Library and the state of Maine.

A library is more than a big building with books in it. We’re a big building with books and a staff that’s eager to connect you with those books, plus the music, movies, and information you need. Have you read everything by your favorite author and need some ideas to tide you over while you wait for the next one? Ask us—we’ll point you to some good ones. Do you want to sample some new (or old) tunes before you commit to buying them? Check out our CD collection. Do you have a long commute to work? Enjoy the time with an audiobook—really, when was the last time someone read to you? Are you trying to settle a bet? Call us up—284-4181—and we’ll do our best to find the answer to your question; you don’t even have to come in (though we’d love to see you).

This piece first appeared in slightly different form in the Biddeford-Saco-OOB Courier, July 13, 2006

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Borrowing Services
  • We lend books, magazines, audiobooks on CD or audiocassette, music on compact discs and audiocassettes, videocassettes and DVD's, book-and-CD or book-and-casette kits, and large-print books.
  • Interlibrary loan - if we don't have it, we'll find it for you.
  • Reserve service for titles that are checked out.
  • Books for adult new readers.
  • Talking Books for the physically handicapped.

Reference Services

  • Telephone and in-house answers to questions of all sorts.
  • Online subscription resources and Internet access
  • Reader's advisory service - if you're not quite sure what you want to read.
  • Online Minerva catalog with access to MaineCat - a listing of our collection and the holdings of other Maine libraries.
  • Newspaper index of the Journal-Tribune and the Biddeford-Saco-OOB Courier.
  • Genealogy resources, including census information, obituaries, and birth & marriage indices.
  • Local newspapers on microfilm.
  • Morningstar and Value Line investment information services.

Other Community Services

  • Use of Community Room and Small Group Meeting Room for meetings and workshops.
  • Museum passes to the Children's Museum of Maine, the Portland Museum of Art, and USM's Southworth Planetarium..
  • Public computers with Internet access, Microsoft Office programs, and games.
  • Building-wide wireless Internet access.
  • Art exhibits.
  • IRS and Maine tax form distribution service.
  • SMAA Senior Advocate to assist seniors with applying for entitlement programs such as Medicare Plan D. Call 284-4181 for more information.
  • Notary service (not available at all times).
  • Off-site deposit collections at area facilities serving the elderly
  • BookShare outreach to day cares and preschools.
  • Historic photograph and documents collections.
  • Office space for the Biddeford Historical Society and the Franco-American Genealogical Society of York County.

Portland Public Library Cards

  • Residents of York and Cumberland Counties may bring photo ID and proof of address to us and we will give you a Portland Public Library card. This will enable you to borrow materials from the state's largest public library and to take advantage of their many Internet-based services, including downloadable audiobooks and ebooks from Netlibrary and genealogical and business resources, among others. For a full description of these services, visit their website.

Important: as of November 30, 2007, Rosetta Stone will discontinue all public library subscriptions, including Portland Public Library's.


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