CHERRYFIELD, Maine — In the Cherryfield Library, a quilt is displayed on a wall for a raffle that will be held in December. Nearby, two paintings are exhibited for a silent auction to be held in August. There are fliers on the counter promoting the raffle and auction along with another flier advertising a windjammer cruise excursion.
Welcome to the brave new world of small community libraries seeking to supplement their budgets with a host of fundraising activities.
The Cherryfield Library has been in existence in various buildings since 1837. It moved into a building donated by the Union Trust Company in 2005 and put on a small addition in 2009. The library has 475 patrons, not counting people who come in only to use computers or Wi-Fi service, according to director Cara Sawyer. It sees about 100 people per week, although the number about doubles during the summer, and circulates about 50 materials.
The library, organized as a private nonprofit organization, has an operating budget of about $30,000, which Sawyer called a “bare bones” spending plan. Besides paying for a staff of two, the operating budget pays for heating, electricity, phone service and other expenses.
The operating budget does not include spending for adding new materials or equipment. In fact, the library usually adds to its collection annually but made no plans to do so this year for the first time. However, the board of trustees took a special vote to authorize a $250 order of 11 books recently.
The town appropriated $12,000 for the library in the current fiscal year, which means it must raise about another $12,000 to $13,000 — roughly $1,000 a month.
The library has done fundraising in the past, but things are different now, according to Sawyer. There are more nonprofits doing the same thing, and the economy is weaker than years past. The library also had more of a cushion in the bank before and was in better financial condition.
“I would guess three-quarters of us in the state of Maine are in the same boat, and we’re all hitting the same wall,” Sawyer said last week, referring to rising expenses and dwindling financial resources. “It is a big fear in libraries right now that unless you can find a new way for funding, libraries will be closing.”
That is at least part of the reason why libraries are “changing their ways,” said Sawyer, adding more events and activities and technology. They are “gearing a lot more toward that than the traditional ‘come in and check out a book,’” she added.
“In this tough economy many libraries are working with a lot less financial support but are holding their own,” said Valerie Osborne, a consultant for the Northeastern Maine Library District who works from the Bangor Public Library. “The budget season isn’t over yet, so I suspect we will hear of more cuts in the next six weeks,” she added.
The Millinocket Memorial Library is an example of another community library in similar jeopardy. A public library, it has an annual operating budget of $115,000, supplemented by a friends organization that conducts fundraising. The additional funds are used for decorating and some other expenses or projects that are not covered by the operating budget.
The library, which circulates about 425 materials weekly, is in danger of being shuttered, according to library assistant Billie Jean Brilliant. A member of the Millinocket Town Council told the president of the library friends in recent months that it would be closed, according to Brilliant.
“That got everyone all upset and excited,” said Brilliant last week. After word spread about the councilor’s remark, the library and friends organization sponsored a membership drive, she said.
“All I know is we have a tremendous support base here from the townspeople that use the library on a regular basis,” said Brilliant. “They’re just really concerned about this because, frankly, no one wants to live in a town without a library.”
In Cherryfield, Sawyer is pinning a lot of hope on the cruise fundraiser. It is being sponsored by Steve Pagels, a member of the library’s board who operates Downeast Windjammer Cruises. Tickets will be by donation — the suggested amount is $35 — and Pagels will donate the proceeds to the library.
Pagels has done other cruises in recent years for the library’s benefit. The library netted $675 from last year’s cruise and about $2,000 the year before, according to Sawyer, who noted that an activity like a pie sale might generate about $250.
The cruise will be held 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 14, leaving from the dock at Winter Harbor. It will pass by Winter Harbor Lighthouse and Egg Rock with a layover in Bar Harbor. For more information about the cruise, call 546-4228.
The library also will hold a book signing featuring local authors Ralph Larsen and Burndett Andrew at 4 p.m. May 17, with a portion of the proceeds to aid the library.