Museum Spotlight: The Mark Twain Library

Mark Twain Library

The Mark Twain Library

Poor Yorick proudly announces its new partner, The Mark Twain Library in Redding, Connecticut. The library was founded by Mark Twain after his move to Redding in 1908.

After his move to the town, Twain convinced his many visitors that the community needed a library. He offered to donate his own personal collection to the cause. The community agreed and offered to do their part, and they formed the Mark Twain Library Association; by 1910, the library was built on donated land.

According to its director, Beth Dominianni, the library “is unique in that it’s the only public library that can thank one of America’s most famous authors for its beginning.” It serves Redding and the surrounding region with its year-round program of activities and fairs. The events allow the library to follows its mission as it is stated on its website: “Honoring the vision and legacy of its founder, the Mark Twain Library offers the Redding community a center for intellectual, educational, social and cultural enrichment, providing a wide variety of materials, resources, and programs for all ages.”

In line with its commitment to serving the community’s intellectual and social needs, one of the library’s main fundraising events is its annual book fair. On Labor Day weekend each year, the library holds a bargain sale. This year over 65,000 books were categorized and put on sale in the big gym at the Redding Community Center. It’s a four-day event and one of the largest in the region, during which the books get progressively cheaper, until the last day when they go for $10 for an entire box of books. It’s a spirited event that encourages reading and helps to finance library programming. It takes many months and volunteers to organize the book fair and other events put on by the Library.

Poor Yorick spoke with Beth Dominianni about her experience directing the institution:
 
 
PY: According to your website, Mark Twain encouraged his many visitors to give $1.00 to help build a library in Redding. Was this a large part of the original funding?

BD: Only a bit! In fact, the majority of the money to build the library came from the sale of property Twain had purchased for his daughter Jean, who unfortunately passed away a few months prior to Clemens’ death. The property was donated by a local farmer.
 
 
PY: Besides the library building itself, what other artifacts associated with Mark Twain does the library possess?

BD: We have 300 books that were originally from Twain’s personal library, which comprise the largest collection of its sort in a Twain-related institution. We also have several items belonging to Twain, such as a billiard ball, walking sticks, and a portable writing desk made from a cigar box and a small traveling cigar case.

 
 
PY: How do you promote the reading of Twain’s literature within the library’s day-to-day operations?

BD: When you enter our doors, you are immersed in the joy of Twain’s literature. From the quotes on our walls to the unique portrait of Twain when he was 63, the overall design of the library inspires readers young and old to read his works. We have held One Book, One Town readings of Huckleberry Finn in the past, and, in conjunction with the 350th anniversary of the town, we are planning to hold read-alouds of Twain’s most popular works around Redding.
 
 
PY: Besides your huge book fair, what other events does the Mark Twain Library hold during the year? Could you describe one?

BD: The library holds three other highly anticipated fundraisers. Last year, we held our twentieth annual Frog Frolic in May (the name is taken from Twain’s well-known story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”). It is a large children’s country fair with games, food, and entertainment. It is a true community event, with volunteers of all ages helping and entertainment provided by local children.

Programs for adults range from a forum on world affairs to a behind-the-scenes look at Game of Thrones with the series’ executive producer to world-class music performances.
 
 
PY: Is there anything unique or interesting about working in a library founded by Mark Twain?

BD: I am always reminded of Twain’s legacy and the reason he founded the library: to have a place for residents to come together for intellectual, social, and cultural enrichment. We get visitors from near and far who are devoted Twain fans. I have the opportunity to meet them and learn from them.
 
 
PY: What is something you have learned from Twain fans who visit the library?

BD: I’ve learned just how relevant Twain is to today’s readers all over the world. We’ve had visitors from literally all over the world visit. A visiting Buddhist monk told me that he read Huck Finn as a child living in China. Apparently, it was an example of anti-American literature in his school. Another visitor read Twain’s work in Swedish. I’m not quite sure how the dialect translated in either language.
 
 
PY: What is your favorite part of being the director of this library?

BD: Redding is a town with an amazing spirit, which is reflected in the patrons who come to use the library, attend programs, and borrow items. I enjoy meeting the community, learning about people’s interests, and making sure that the library meets their needs.
 
The Mark Twain Library is located on Route 53 in Redding, Connecticut. Visit the library’s website at www.marktwainlibrary.org.
 
 
Kevin Hudson
Associate Editor



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