Gardiner Public Library has served the community since 1881. And now it’s the Randolph, Litchfield, Pittston, West Gardiner and Farmingdale public library as well.

Looking for a magazine? There’s everything from Consumer Reports to Sports Illustrated. Can’t afford a subscription to the Boston Globe, the Wall Street Journal or the Kennebec Journal? You can find them all at the library.

A request for a book or movie is like dropping a stone in a pool of water. If Gardiner doesn’t have it the request ripples throughout the state. If the book or movie still hasn’t been found, the request moves throughout New England. If it still can’t be found, the hunt continues to the rest of the country. Your card is a passport to public, college and university libraries in the state and beyond.

Your book can come in regular type or, if you’re visually impaired, large print. Or you can listen to an audio version. You can check out movies and TV series. You can use a computer. Living on a fixed or low income? This institution means you don’t have to live in isolation.

The public library has always worked with the school district to help meet students’ needs. Because of budget cuts, School Administrative District 11 now has one librarian for seven schools. Ed techs are filling in.

To help fill the gap, the Gardiner Library established a satellite facility at the Boys and Girls Club. It was there to give kids the resources they needed to do homework and projects or to simply sit and read a book. This program, however, was removed in a round of budget cuts. To help bridge the gap, the library began a new program. On Thursdays, kids were bused to the library. Imagine, the library was the “cool place” to be. But without a children’s librarian, there is the probability that when school starts in September this program also may be cut.

The library has always served everyone in these communities: young, old and in-between, it hasn’t mattered. Until now. In a budget-saving move, the Gardiner City Council has voted to not hire a children’s librarian until November. This position is not new. The children’s librarian retired in June, and the position needs to be filled.

The library is so shorthanded that our librarians were given “panic buttons” in case of medical or other emergencies. Last year, a librarian in the Lewiston was savagely attacked. We want our librarians to be safe.

Without a children’s librarian, the children’s room may be forced to close a couple of days a week. Other unplanned closures may occur when employees take vacation days or are out sick. We’ve already had one unplanned closure. We recently we had to close the children’s room because we didn’t have staff to keep it open.

In a budgetary move, we cut $3,000 from this year’s new book fund. We’ll fundraise to make up the amount we’ve lost.

So what kind of money are we talking about? One city councilor said they didn’t want to pay for a “$50,000” per year salary. That’s misleading. The position requires a college degree, and the starting salary is less than $30,000 a year. The benefits that go with the position are standard for all city employees. It is possible to work for the library for 35 years and have an annual salary of $33,000. Not filling this position until November will save the average Gardiner property owner $1.23 per month. That’s it. $1.23 per month for six months.

Every city department has worked very hard to meet the needs of the community with less and less. But with continued cuts, there finally comes a point when those services may not be available.

Gardiner has high property taxes, and no one wants them to increase. The state is paying less and less of its mandated revenue sharing — throwing the financial burden onto property owners. Don’t like your property taxes? Call your representatives in Augusta and demand they follow their own laws.

It’s easy to find budgetary solutions on a spreadsheet. It’s more difficult when you understand what impact those figures have on programs. At 6 tonight, the Gardiner City Council will vote whether to keep the position vacant or allow a librarian to be hired. People who care about the library, and the many services it provides, should let the council know how they feel.

Helen Stevens, of Gardiner, is chairwoman of the Gardiner Library Board of Trustees.


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