Calais Librarian Retiring After 34 Years Of Service

By Joyce Scott

“It just feels right,” she told a Calais Advertiser reporter.  “It’s time for a change for me and the library.  I still love it, but it is time for somebody else to step in.”
She will finish her career at the library on June 30th.
Sotirelis began her career in libraries when she worked as a Pro-tem Librarian at the Special Services Library, U. S. Army Hospital Library in Heidelberg, Germany. 
“My husband was in the Army and stationed in Heidelberg,” she said.  “I was bored sitting around the apartment and thought this was something I could do.  I found I loved it.”
When she moved back to Maine, Sotirelis went back to teaching.  She taught in schools in Perry and Pembroke but the library was always on her mind.
“I kept my ears and eyes open for an opening in a library,” she said.
She was not disappointed.
In 1979 there was an opening for a part time position as a librarian at the Calais Elementary School. 
She applied and was hired for the position.
When she started this position there was no library as such at the school because it was just a room full of books at that time.  Marilyn catalogued and shelved every book; then library volunteers were trained to help with checking out books for the children in all the classrooms.
Shortly after starting work at the Calais Elementary School Library, there was an opening for an Assistant Librarian at the Calais Free Library.  She applied - and to her great delight - was also chosen for this position. Since both the school and public libraries were part-time positions, Marilyn was able to work both of them until 1984, when the position of Library Director became available.  Competition was intense for this position, but because of her experience and desire to continue to expand on the proud heritage that had already been set for the Calais Free Library, the position was offered to her.
She replaced Helen Oliver.`
“She (Oliver) was a wonderful lady,” Sotirelis said.  “She was my mentor.  She taught me a lot. She made that library what it is today. She brought it into the modern age.   All I`ve done is keep it there.”
In the 29 years that Marilyn has been the director, she has seen a lot of changes.
In 1985, although the plans were already in place for the large addition to the library, she came on the scene right at the start of the actual building process.  Overseeing this project – along with Frank Fenderson, the Chair of the Library Trustees - was a daily challenge.  This addition doubled the size of the original building and all the funds for this addition were from grants or private donations.  “This just shows the love that is here for the library,`` she said.
In 2002 a major and much needed, renovation to the older section of the library took place thanks to the strong show of support from the residents of the City of Calais.  Ted Carter, a recently retired library trustee was the chair of the Building Committee and worked tirelessly on this project to make the original section of the library.
Sotirelis has worked hard to bring more services to patron of this rural library.
Interlibrary Loan: There is no starting date to this well loved and much used service because it has been offered free of charge from this library ever since its inception. The only difference now is the format used to do the actual requesting of the material. The Calais Free Library has always been a very strong user of this service for two reasons:  (1) the staff readily offers to request a book or other item such as an audio book or a DVD for any library patron regardless of age and (2) the remote geographical location of this library makes it much harder for a library patron to easily travel to another library to get the material him or herself.
Nowadays, of course, since this library is fully automated, a library patron can remotely request (from home, car – or anywhere) a book or other item him or herself and the item will be delivered to the Calais Free Library.
In 2001 the Calais Free Library Joined Minerva – the on-line circulation and cataloging system (this process took about a year to complete and many hours of work beyond the actual work day).  ``It is, however, the best decision I have ever made as the director of this library,`` she said.
Delivery System: The interlibrary loan system only works as well as it does because of its marriage with the statewide van delivery service. Each week the Calais Free Library receives shipments of hundreds of books that have been requested on-line from other libraries all around the State of Maine.  These shipments come in three days each week and as soon as they arrive, patrons start flocking to the library to pick up their requested items.
It is particularly important for a geographically remote area such as Calais to have easy access to all material on a statewide basis; it gives everyone in the City of Calais and the surrounding communities the same type of access that is offered to library patrons in much larger cities such as Bangor – or even Portland.
Overdrive: In 2008, public libraries were offered the chance to join the Maine InfoNet Downloadable Audio Project.  Seeing the potential use of this new virtual library, the Calais Free Library was one of the first to participate in this new and exciting project. This is an area that is in constant flux – always expanding and adding more ways to download books. Now it includes the ebook format as well as the audio format.  For a small fee to the library, all library patrons – with a valid patron card – have access to a virtual world of books.
MARVEL!: This is one of the few services that is offered to all Maine residents – with or without a valid patron card.  MARVEL! is a huge collection of electronic resources – such as: thousands of magazines, newspapers, and images that are available 24 hours a day.  Most of the material is available remotely to anyone who has access to a computer and the internet; Value Line and Ancestry Library edition are two sites that can only be accessed at the library.
Art Gallery - It was shortly after the new section of the library was opened in 1985 that the Art Gallery started having a new exhibit each and every month.  Sotirelis has contacts with numerous local artists and keeps the annual calendar for the Art Gallery filled with a variety of art forms each year.  This is a well-loved section of the library and offers one place in Calais that has consistently made available a space for a wide range of art for the viewing pleasure of many.
She also makes sure that other – seemingly more mundane, but nevertheless, necessary services - are also available for anyone in the Calais area.  All library staff are more than willing to help with photocopying and/or faxing of material. There is also a printer connected to the four public access computers and this is used extensively.  Two laptops are also available for the public to use, and the WiFi is available 24/7 – either inside or (within a short range) outside the library building.
It`s all about the patrons.   “They come first,”  the director said.  ‘They are the reason we are here.``
Sotirelis has devoted her life to the library.  She has no regrets.  ``I have done it willingly and lovingly,`` she said.
Now it`s time for a change.  She said although she doesn`t have a concrete plan, she is looking toward doing volunteer work perhaps at the Calais Elementary School Library.  “I’m open to ideas,” she said.  I want to give back to Calais.  I still want to be part of the community.”