A few weeks ago, I spent a week up on Monhegan Island. While there, I passed some time in what I consider to be the perfect library. It was a quiet and tiny structure with exposed beams, patches of sun and a carefully edited collection of exactly the timeless classics that you would want to read while on vacation. It smelled of salt, wood and dusty book jackets.
When I returned to Portland, I was greeted with the news municipal budget cuts would force the Portland Public Library to be closed on Mondays and hours for the rest of the week would be reduced.
The poor Portland library. It's got shaggy orange carpet from the 80s, it smells like pee, it's housed in an architectural aberration and now, they have to cut staff and services. Maine is filled with towns that boast gorgeous libraries but when it comes to the biggest city, we've got the biggest challenge.
The library knows it is in need of a fresh look and has been in the quiet phase of a capital campaign for a few years now with the intention of modernizing their aging structure. In the midst of discussions to renovate, the neighboring Portland Public Market went belly up and the building became available. The library wanted to move into the market, a much nicer architectural space. A vote went out to the public last June for $5 million of funding that would allow the library to utilize bond funding for relocation instead of renovation.
Ultimately, the voters turned down the market move. Misinformation about the limited capacity of the market influenced the election. Forget the gleaming hardwoods, we'll take acres of shag, thanks.
So it's back to the drawing board for the library's renovations. They are still short about $2 million. In the midst of it all, budget cuts are forcing the library to relocate some of their materials, which means a closure of two weeks, from June 30 to July 13. In late summer most of the children's books will have been moved to the branch on Munjoy Hill (there are six branch locations in addition to the mother ship on Congress). The Reiche branch was initially slated to be closed completely but the neighborhood went ballistic and the city ponied up the $30K to keep it open for one more year.
I was thinking about this while listening to Selected Shorts on NPR this week which featured stories about libraries as magical places. Portland deserves a magical library. With the economy tanking, we need a free and open place of respite and resources. The library should be that island.
Portland Public Library: www.portlandlibrary.com/
Blog by the Director of the Portland Public Library:http://ppldirectorsblog.blogspot.com/
Blog to keep the Portland library branches open: http://savethebranches.wordpress.com/