Libraries are a critical element in the continued success of students of all ages, but recent budget cuts in the University of Maine system have been extraordinarily hard on the system’s libraries.

When funds are not available, difficult decisions must be made, but eliminating librarian positions and leaving positions unfilled leads to libraries that are less able to shepherd students through a complex resource environment. Given limited budgets, it is absolutely essential to have librarians who can make sure that every dollar spent on the library is spent wisely and in support of the curriculum. For the sake of students and scholarship, libraries and librarians must not be considered an expendable part of the University of Maine budget.

School libraries from elementary through high school throughout the state and country also are facing reduced budgets and staff cuts. As a result, many students enter college ill-prepared for the rigors of university-level research, and this problem is worsening, according to a 2013 study by Alison Head called “Learning the Ropes.”

“From 2007 to 2011, the number of employed school teacher-librarians in the U.S. decreased more rapidly than other type of school staff,” Head writes. In her study, “nearly three-fourths of the sample (74 percent) said they [students] struggled with selecting keywords and formulating efficient search queries.”

Head’s study indicated that quality library instruction at the college level has a bearing on freshman retention rates, and that librarians are tied with English composition instructors as the “most helpful individuals on campus with guiding them through college-level research.”

Most people believe that everything a person needs to know is available for free on the Internet. A great many free resources can be found on the Internet, but some of them take skilled searching techniques to locate. A great many online resources cost a great deal to access and require specialized skills to search.

Such resources often are available through colleges and universities, and librarians can help students learn searching techniques that will turn up useful results. Many of the most valuable and expensive of these resources are difficult to navigate without assistance. Librarians can guide students through the search process, leading to best use of the money available.

Maine has a rich history of resource sharing among all types of libraries — school, public, academic and special libraries. Our resource sharing is designed to keep the broadest possible set of materials and resources available to all residents in the state, an amount of collaboration rarely seen in the rest of the country. The system makes many resources available to all of us, quickly and relatively inexpensively, but we need professional library leadership to continue to provide and maintain such services.

Without professional librarian leadership, and with sustained and disproportionate cuts to the libraries of our schools and the University of Maine system, I fear that we are going to irreparably damage our scholarship, our reputation and our integrity.

As president of the Maine Library Association, a taxpayer and a concerned citizen, I urge the residents of Maine to support the research needs of their students and faculty at all levels, and reconsider the deep cuts that have been made to the University of Maine libraries, as well as our school libraries around the state.

Nissa Flanagan of South Portland is president of the Maine Library Association.