HALLOWELL — City residents discussed their goals and visions for the Hubbard Free Library in an attempt to inform a plan to stabilize the financially rocky institution.

More than 30 people, including city officials, braved heavy rain to attend Thursday’s forum at the City Hall.

Attendees discussed in small groups how the library could innovate and thrive in Hallowell before a larger discussion led by Carole Martin, a consultant hired to facilitate the execution of a five-month strategic plan.

Martin said during the forum that libraries contribute to communities in a number of ways and questions would center on individuals’ visions of how the library would fit into a prosperous future for Hallowell.

“The library belongs to all of you,” Martin said. “Your stake in its future is very important.”

Proposing ways to increase contributions, residents suggested using the space to hold concerts because the historical venue would provide a unique experience. Other ideas included serving coffee, holding dinner party fundraisers and having a dedicated space for selling used books to provide alternate streams of income.

Residents said they appreciated the library’s presence in the community, calling it comfortable and welcoming. Further, they appreciated the library’s programming and areas for children, but they said the library could expand its horizons to welcome in more teens and young adults.

A full report from the night’s discussion, which would be emailed to attendees after the forum, was not available at presstime.

Before the forum, Chris Myers Asch was at the library with his children, Robin, Miriam and Aaron. He said he is a lifetime member at the library — which requires a one-time $75 donation — and comes once a week with his children to check out more books.

“I think (the library) is a critical part of the Hallowell community,” he said. “They have a remarkable collection of children’s books.”

Myers Asch said Hallowell residents generally are willing to make contributions and perhaps should give in larger amounts to support the institution. He added that the library and the new management team at the library, spearheaded by Interim Director Annemarie Kromhout, have a “renewed commitment” to the institution’s success.

Thursday’s forum was the first step in the strategic plan designed to gauge what residents want — and what they will donate for — at the library. The process will conclude in May with a recommendation from the library’s board of trustees about the institution’s future operations.

The private, nonprofit library’s money struggles have been well-documented. Currently, the library’s board is projecting a $13,000 shortfall in funding, which could close the library if not made up before the end of the fiscal year, at the end of June.

The strategic planning is being funded by the city, which awarded the library $57,000 when it passed its budget in August: $15,000 for operating costs, its usual $27,000 annual contribution and $15,000 in tax increment financing revenue to fund the strategic plan and other small projects. The budget for the strategic plan is $10,000, most of which will go to consultant Carole Martin.

Mayor Mark Walker said the city funded the strategic plan to help identify problem areas at the library and better understand its funding was being used to contribute to a successful business model for the institution.

“We want the city to have a successful and prosperous library,” he said. “The library is part of a prosperous community; it’s been here for 140-plus years … and it should stay here.”

Walker also pledged that as long as he is mayor, the library will not close.

The next step in the plan is a survey to be held in February. Another forum is scheduled for March 9.

Built in 1880, Hubbard Free Library is the oldest library building in Maine still serving its original purpose.

Sam Shepherd — 621-5666

[email protected]

Twitter: @SamShepME

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