Originally published in The Weekly Packet, August 14, 2014
East Blue Hill residents meet to discuss future of village library
The East Blue Hill Public Library, built in 1920, is a member of the National Register of Historic Places.
by Ross Gallagher
For several decades, the East Blue Hill Public Library has served its village as a community resource. Weekly Saturday morning gatherings have allowed residents a place to congregate and trade news and stories over coffee and locally-baked goods for generations.
The library’s collection of books has provided its visitors with insight into the village’s history while its more recent WiFi connection has allowed them Internet access. And over the years, the unique architecture of the building and the space it occupies in the center of town has made it into something of a village monument.
Recently, the primarily volunteer-run library has become a cause for concern as it faces issues regarding its membership of the Maine State Library Association. On July 22, members of the East Blue Hill community met at Founder’s Hall to discuss its fate.
Valerie Osbourne, the Northeastern Maine Library District Consultant whose job it has been for the past eight years to help libraries in her district with management issues, provided the East Blue Hill residents with guidelines that served as the core of the meeting. A presentation of these guidelines by village resident Nancy White got the meeting under way.
According to Osbourne, in order to comply with the MSLA requirements of membership, the EBH Library must maintain reliable statistical information and consistent hours of operation year-round, provide public programming, and train its volunteer staff to use Marvel!, Maine’s Virtual Library system. In return for these services, EBH Library patrons receive free WiFi, access to inter-library loans, and use of the Marvel! system, a resource valued at $700,000 per library for the sheer magnitude of credible information that it makes available to its users. As long as the MSLA requirements are met, these services are rendered at no cost to the library itself.
After this initial presentation of facts, commentary ensued. “These benefits are worthwhile,” vocalized one community member, “we should stay in the library system.” Nearly everyone present seemed to agree. The difficulty lay in the nature of a community-supported, volunteer-run library: no one volunteer is more or less responsible for the library’s welfare than any other. And in order to maintain a properly functioning library, there must be a library director, someone who corresponds with the MSLA and ensures all duties required of a public library are being fulfilled. Furthermore, the position is one Osbourne strongly recommended be paid due to the nature of the director’s responsibilities. While a handful of other libraries in the Northeastern District are successfully volunteer-run, among them the Gibbs, Dorcas, and Long Lake public libraries, a salary or stipend commensurate with the director’s responsibilities ensures the library’s membership obligations will be carried out with a level of organization and consistency that a group of volunteers might not be able to guarantee.
The library director’s compensation, however, “could be anywhere from $1 a year to $100,000 a minute,” as another community member suggested, implying a pay scale nearer the former number and making the point that, in a village like East Blue Hill, small and with a successful history of self-governance on community issues, the requirement that a library director be paid is a mere formality. For those members of the village who use it, the responsibilities of keeping a community fixture such as the East Blue Hill Public Library in compliance with the MSLA to ensure its use by the village residents far outweighs any financial compensation one might hope to receive.
As the meeting came to a close, the issues of whether anyone would be willing to volunteer for the EBH Library, and how many of those people would be willing to take a leadership role, were put to a vote. Both received near-unanimous support, tentatively ensuring the East Blue Hill Public Library’s position as a community resource and its ongoing place in the MSLA system. Issues that remained to be resolved included the prospect of year-round vs. summer resident volunteer support for the library and the strong recommendation by the MSLA that it house a public bathroom so that visitors to the library would no longer need to use their neighbor’s houses. More information on volunteerism in Maine libraries can be found at maine.gov/msl/libs/admin/vol/index.shtml and on the MSLA and its resources at maine.gov/msl/index.shtml.