Randolph residents won’t be able to get library cards at the Gardiner Public Library anymore if they decide at Wednesday’s Town Meeting to leave the service and instead to reimburse people for the cost of using libraries elsewhere in the region.

Residents previously have rejected proposals to drop out of the library partnership, which also includes Gardiner, West Gardiner, Pittston and Litchfield. Both the Board of Selectmen and the Budget Committee are recommending leaving the library

The board chairman said the amount requested by the Gardiner library is too much, but library director Anne Davis said her biggest concern with the proposed move is that students in Randolph will lose access to the local library, which serves all other communities in the school district.

Bob Henderson, chairman of the Randolph selectmen, said the town won’t be denying residents access to a library because the same amount of money requested by the library — $17,328 — would be raised for a dedicated account to reimburse residents paying to join other libraries.

However, that other library won’t be in Gardiner. The City Council there passed a three-year suspension early this month on issuing new cards for people from towns that don’t pay to be members to discourage Randolph from dropping out. Current cardholders from other towns still will be able to renew their cards.

“In my eyes, I think they cut off their nose to spite the face, strong-arming us to stay with them,” Henderson said of the decision. “All we want to know is where our money is going.”

Residents will vote on the library question, along with the rest of the $1,922,866 budget, at the Town Meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday at T.C. Hamlin School.

Anyone can pay $60 to be a member at Lithgow Public Library in Augusta, but that’s about seven miles away, significantly farther than the one-mile distance between the Gardiner library and much of Randolph. Cardholders at Lithgow also have free access to the Gardiner library now, but the libraries are suspending that service after September because of the upcoming extensive renovations to the Augusta library building, according to Davis.

There are currently 413 cardholders from 296 households in Randolph, according to the Gardiner library. If all those households get cards at Lithgow, the town will end up paying $17,760, about $430 more than what Gardiner is requesting.

Still, Henderson said the $17,000 is a lot of money when the majority of residents don’t use the library and already have access to similar materials on the Internet. He also said the town wanted to know which people actually use the library, but state law prevents the library from disclosing the names of the library patrons relative to their use of books or other materials.

“All we just want is control,” Henderson said.

Shirley Hanley, who served on the school board and raised eight children in Randolph, said she doesn’t think the town should leave the library service.

Hanley, 79, also said her biggest concern is that students in Randolph no longer would be able to use the Gardiner library. She said some people might think the school libraries can replace the public library, but those aren’t open during the summer, when it’s most important for children to keep reading. Hanley, whose husband, Peter Hanley, was a selectman for more than 30 years, used to read to children at the library every week. She’s been a member of the library for more than 70 years.

She said the argument for leaving the library is similar to people not wanting to pay for education costs because they don’t have children themselves.

The reluctance to appear to be not supporting children probably is why the residents advocating for leaving the service at the Town Meeting last year tried making the vote a secret-ballot question. The motion failed, and voters approved the $16,971 request to continue paying to be a member community at the library.

Davis said she’s worked closely with the school district, Gardiner-based Regional School Unit 11, over the past year to try to get public library cards into the hands of every student. The information packets that will be sent out to parents before the next school year will include a library card registration form for the first time, Davis said.

She’s also been working to try to get a bus to drop off high school students at the library once a week. If Randolph votes Wednesday to leave the library, it will be the only town in RSU 11 without access to materials there.

Besides the effect on students, Davis said she’s worried that losing the roughly $17,000 in revenue from Randolph would lead to cutbacks that will be felt by all users of the library. The city already cut her budget for new materials this year down to $8,000 from $18,000.

“I don’t have anywhere else to cut,” Davis said.

Paul Koenig — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @paul_koenig


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