BANGOR, Maine — The crowd packed into the Bangor City Council chambers and spilling into the hallway on Thursday was as big as any in several months. The attendees didn’t all speak, but their collective show of support for the Bangor Public Library was meant to send a clear message to councilors: Be prudent with our budget.
Librarian Barbara McDade addressed the council, and her impassioned remarks about the benefits of the library and why the city should support it financially drew rousing applause.
“We are a cradle-to-grave service, free to the public,” she said, turning to gesture to the audience. “This is who is using your library.”
Earlier this spring, interim City Manager Robert Farrar presented an initial 2011 municipal budget that included a $32,900 reduction in the city’s contribution to its public library. After discussion by some councilors, an additional reduction of $141,000 was proposed. The overall cut of $173,900 represents a 13.2 percent drop in municipal support for a library budget of about $2.4 million.
Councilors discussed the library, along with several other smaller budget lines, at a workshop on Thursday — one of many between now and when the council will make final decisions on the budget.
“The conversation was very beneficial. The process that we’re using now, especially to assess the impact of any cuts, is rewarding,” council Chair Richard Stone said. “My mindset is, I don’t like to wait until there is a crisis and then manage it.”
Councilor Cary Weston said he was sympathetic to the library supporters but also said the dozens of people who attended Thursday’s workshop didn’t necessarily represent the other 33,000 residents looking for tax reprieve.
“I’ve been asking them all, ‘What would you prefer that we cut?’” he said.
The library, like many agencies the city supports, is technically not a municipal department. Aside from contributions from Bangor and money from the state, the library operates on an endowment built by gifts and donations.
But, McDade said, “it’s not like we’re an unconnected nonprofit asking for a handout.”
McDade said if the $173,900 budget reduction holds up, she will need to close the library’s local history department, cut back hours in the children’s department and lay off staff or reduce hours for her 31 full-time employees and seven part-timers.
Last year, the library instituted six unpaid furlough days to deal with a budget shortfall.
McDade, who shared several anecdotes about why she’s a librarian, also said library use has gone up in the last year not down.
Three other library supporters also had the chance to address councilors on Thursday.
Norman Minsky, president of the library’s board of directors, urged councilors to treat the library as it has tried to treat the city.
Frank Bragg, president of the Bangor Mechanic Organization, a civic group that founded the library in 1830, encouraged Bangor to avoid “draconian” cuts that would injure the library’s ability to provide public services.
Finally, local author and library trustee Tabitha King shared memories of the Bangor Public Library as a beacon for her when she was a child.
“What happens when you cut so much that you can never get it back?” she asked.