The Friends of Maine Libraries isn’t a gigantic organization with huge goals. Basically, its major function is administering small grants to a few Maine libraries every year, according to John Clark, president of the group’s board of directors.
With libraries all over the state running on bare-bones budgets, Clark said the board weighs its decision carefully with an eye toward making the biggest impact possible in a community. This year — with eight applicants for two $1,000 grants — was no exception.
“Everyone on the board spent three days communicating with each other about each proposal’s relative merits,” said Clark. “We took the decision very seriously.”
One of the winning proposals came from the Witherle Memorial Library in Castine, which intends to buy a new projector screen and a large tent so it can offer summer events outdoors, rain or shine.
“Our biggest problem right now is space,” said Witherle children’s librarian Emma Sweet. “In the summer, we like to have outdoor programs, but you don’t know what the weather is going to be.”
Sweet said programming in the summer, which is heavily attended by both local and summer residents, ranges from children’s films to lectures to one-night classes, such as a seminar this past summer about how to use Facebook.
“Our library is really a central focal point of the community and having this gift to share with the community really touches everybody,” said Sweet.
The second $1,000 grant was given to the Acton Public Library in rural York County. That grant will provide community services that have not been available in that town before, said Grant. The new services include a fax machine, wireless printer for public use and two Kindles, computer devices used for reading books and periodicals that are downloaded from the Internet.
“The whole idea of these grants has been to let libraries do things that are not in their line-item budgets,” said Clark. “We really want to give libraries with pretty serious budget constraints a magic bullet.”
With that in mind, a proposal from the 2-year-old Newport Cultural Center, which has housed the Newport library since it was built, received a $100 “minigrant,” said Clark. The money will be used for updates in the nonfiction children’s collection of books and DVDs, said children’s librarian Joanne Elwell. Some topics, such as health and outer space, develop so quickly it’s hard to keep up-to-date, she said.
“Ever since we moved here it seems like we’ve had such an increase in number of kids coming into the Cultural Center,” said Elwell. “The kids are the ones we need to concentrate on because they’re the ones who are going to keep our libraries alive.”
Friends of Maine Libraries, which has existed for more than 20 years, is funded by dues-paying members, including approximately 37 individuals and more than 50 libraries and friends of libraries groups, said Clark.