Six small Maine libraries have been recognized for their success in connecting with their communities in a big way.
The library industry’s leading trade magazine, Library Journal, designated six Maine libraries as Star Libraries.
Nationwide, 262 out of 9,225 public libraries studied by the Library Journal gained the recognition. In Maine, the Rockland Public Library, Camden Public Library, Southwest Harbor Public Library, Guilford Memorial Library, Skidompha Public Library in Damariscotta and the Witherle Memorial Library in Castine gained recognition.
“This is about connecting with your community,” said Amy Levine, Rockland Public Library director.
“Libraries can create a sense of place. People need and want the human connection,” Levine said.
Linda Packard, library director for the Guilford Memorial Library, also voiced those sentiments when asked what makes a successful library.
“We enjoy really good support from the community. And we have a great staff. Those two things make a great library,” Packard said.
She noted that in 2003, the library doubled its size thanks to the support of the community as well as some grants.
The Library Journal uses a series of measurements to determine which libraries gain the Star Library ranking.
Rockland, Camden and Guilford are the only three libraries in Maine that have earned the distinction in each of the five years the trade journal has used the ranking system. Only 111 libraries in the country have attained that five-year status.
The measurements used by the trade journal include circulation per capita, library visits per capita, program attendance per capita, and public Internet terminal use per capita.
The Camden Public Library, for example, circulated 49 books or other library material per capita. Southwest Harbor circulated 33, Rockland circulated 24, Guilford 19, Witherle 18, and Skidompha 12.
In terms of visits to the library, Southwest Harbor had 43 visits per capita, Camden 37, Skidompha 27, Witherle 17 and Guilford nine.
The number of people who attended programs put on by the library was slightly more than four per capita at Camden, more than three at Witherle, nearly three at Guilford, 2.5 at Southwest Harbor, and 1.5 at Rockland.
For Internet use, the Camden library saw nearly 10 uses per capita. Skidompha’s level was six per capita, Guilford had more than 5,5, Rockland more than five, Southwest Harbor more than four and Witherle three.
Levine noted that the rankings issued by the Library Journal only measure the quantity of services. She said the city has conducted surveys to determine quality as viewed by the public.
“Surveys and other information-gathering techniques all indicate that the vast majority Rockland Public Library users are very pleased with the quality of service they receive,” Levine said.
Levine said it is clear from the rankings that Maine residents use and value their local public libraries. As part of the survey done for the Rockland library, users were asked why the library was important to them and what difference does it make in their lives. While many of the responses were anonymous, others agreed in the survey to have their names attached to their comments.
Morris Dorenfeld said he does not own a computer.
“Libraries offer me books and films, a place to relax and meet friends. The library opens up a window to the world for me,” Dorenfeld said in his response.
Mary Ann Giasson stated that the Rockland library was a valuable resource
for finding reading materials as well as for other events.
“The library is always hosting talks or films that I feel appeal to everyone. I have enjoyed learning about tools to help with genealogy as an example of some of their programming,” she said.
Audrey Payson stated in her response that even though she left the area for 26 years, the library has been a special place for her and she was happy to be back.
Levine noted that the Rockland library serves a much larger area than just the city. Rockland is the county seat, retail center and service center for Knox County.
While Rockland’s population is less than 8,000, the library director noted that she agrees with an assessment made by the police chief that on an average day more than 20,000 people come into Rockland. Levine said many of these people visit the library. That number increases during the summer as tourists arrive in the midcoast.
“We have a pretty good library for a community this size,” she said.
The Rockland library has nearly 52,000 books, nearly 2,800 audio books, and more than 3,600 videos. The town’s annual library budget is $593,000. The library also receives support from the Friends of the Public Library and an endowment from the Rockland Public Library Endowment Association.
Both the Camden and Rockland libraries underwent major expansions. Camden’s expansion was done in 1996 and Rockland’s was completed in 2001.