GUILFORD, Maine — Just how important a role libraries play in their communities is evident by those who frequent the facilities.
As layoffs and closures continue to mount in Guilford, the library has become a gathering place — a comfort zone — for those affected by the recession. Locals gather to knit a favorite pattern, play a game of cribbage, surf the Internet, use the WiFi services, and even get unemployment help.
Once inside the library, few people leave without taking advantage of its traditional offerings by checking out a book or a video, which has helped drive the library’s circulation to an all-time high. In 2007, the circulation was 29,763 compared with 35,195 in 2008, and it’s continuing to inch upward, according to librarian Linda Packard.
Its public service in the community brought notable fame to the Guilford library in recent days when The Library Journal, the trademark journal for libraries, recognized the Guilford Memorial Library as one of 256 star libraries in the country. In addition to the Guilford library, the Camden Public Library, Blue Hill Public Library and Rockland Public Library also were selected for the recognition.
The Library Journal rated 7,115 public libraries throughout the country on their circulation per capita, visits per capita, program attendance per capita and public Internet use per capita based on data collected in 2006 by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
“We’re very surprised because it wasn’t anything we applied for,” Packard, who has been head librarian since 1992, said Thursday. While the library is honored to make the list, public service is what libraries do, she said.
At the Rockland Public Library, where the circulation for 2007-08 was 226,420, librarian Amy Levine said she was pleased with the recognition.
“It’s always good when libraries are recognized for the great service they provide to their communities,” she said Thursday.
For Packard, what sweetens the recognition is that Guilford library has made the gain in circulation on a 34-hour week and on a budget far less than those of the three other Maine libraries selected for the honor. The Guilford library’s total budget is about $70,000 compared with budgets ranging from $200,000 to $999,000 for the other three libraries, she said.
Packard said the library could not do what it does without the help and support of town officials, residents and the library staff. She, too, does everything she can to stretch the $7,000 allotted for the purchase of books. She seeks help from other libraries and the Maine State Library. She said she also scours the Internet, yard sales and auctions for books that people have requested. If a reader makes a request, Packard said, she does all she can to fulfill it as long as it’s a book others also will enjoy.
“You have to be really accommodating,” Packard said.
Ironically, Packard said the one book purchase she hasn’t made is The Library Journal, since she would be the only one interested in it.