Longtime Bangor resident Robert Woodward, who from 1962 until 1990 was director of the Bangor Public Library, died Wednesday at the age of 92, after a long period of failing health.
Under Woodward — just the seventh director in the library’s more than 100-year history — Bangor Public Library experienced a period of major growth. At the time of his retirement, it had the highest circulation of any metropolitan library in New England. During Woodward’s tenure, circulation increased more than 20 percent, with circulation for children’s books comprising the largest percentage of growth. Bangor Public remains the largest public library in the state.
Woodward also initiated the library’s longstanding policy of issuing library cards to any Maine resident — not just Bangor or Penobscot County residents.
“He wanted to make sure the average citizen had access to the books they wanted and needed,” said Barbara McDade, current director of the library. “He really pushed to make sure everyone — not just in Bangor — had access.”
One of the other major initiatives Woodward worked on during his nearly three decades as director was to strengthen and expand the statewide interlibrary loan system, which allows all public libraries in the state to lend materials or provide photocopies to other libraries outside of their assigned counties. He was also the chair of the Maine Library Commission from 1974 until 1982, and was for a time president of the New England Library Association.
“Libraries really have to cooperate with each other, and Robert really pushed for us to work together to get our patrons what they need,” said McDade.
McDade took over for Woodward when he retired in 1990.
“He was the kind of person you want to follow, because when I took over, he told me, ‘It’s your library now,’” said McDade. “He was always there for me when I had questions. He handed it over very gracefully … he really was such a gentleman. The consummate gentleman. He still came in to borrow books every few weeks, up until recent months.”
In a 1990 story marking Woodward’s retirement from the BPL, he was quoted reflecting on the important role the library plays in the daily lives of many Bangorians.
“I can’t imagine a town without a library,” he said.
Woodward is survived by three sons and a daughter, including Mark Woodward, former editor-in-chief of the Bangor Daily News, who is a current board member at the Bangor Public Library.