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The Library Issue
Curtis Memorial Library and the town of Harpswell: myth vs. reality

Op-Ed Essay on Library

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Library FAQ
Times-Record: CML & Harpswell
More:Burr's comments about library


Curtis Memorial Library and the town of Harpswell: myth vs. reality
By Burton W. Taylor Jr., Times Record Contributor

Since 1970, the Curtis Memorial Library and the residents of Harpswell have enjoyed a rocky but mutually beneficial relationship. In return for a relatively modest contribution, Harpswell has had the services of a first rate library.

Three and a half years ago, Curtis decided that Harpswell's contribution should more accurately reflect the usage of the library by its citizens. It said that since Harpswell's usage of the library was about 17 percent of the municipal funding (Brunswick and Harpswell), Harpswell's share of municipal funding should slowly increase to 10 percent, but not higher. This year the request was for 9.5 percent of municipal funding, amounting to $95,918.

Unfortunately, our Budget Advisory Committee recommended to the selectmen that funding for Curtis Library should be $0.00 this year, but that $50,000 be appropriated for library cards for Harpswell's permanent and summer residents. Selectmen Theberge and Weil agreed with this recommendation. Chairman Knight is recommending full funding at $95,918.

In the following paragraphs, I would like to respond to some of the concerns of people who favor zero funding for the library.

The library insists on Harpswell paying 10 percent. They have a take-it-or-leave-it approach and are unwilling to negotiate. The library is seeking equity, and has said they think that 10 percent (9.5 percent this year) is equitable and fair in return for 17 percent of the library usage. I do not understand what there is to negotiate. It is already a bargain!

The library's budget has increased sharply each year. For the last five years the library's budget has increased by an average of less than 4 percent a year. This year's budget increase is 3 percent. Harpswell's share has increased more rapidly in order to reach the library's goal of 10 percent. This rapid increase will end next year when 10 percent is reached, if we stay as a partner.

Harpswell will have to pay more and more every year. In fact, the opposite is probably true. As private giving continues to increase (grants, annual fund, endowment, gifts), the municipal share will decrease.

Zero funding will benefit those hit hardest by the tax increases this year. My home is on the water. I expect to be hit hard by the property revaluations. However, the library request represents only about 1 percent of Harpswell's budget.

The library would not make an agreement with the town. The library wrote a memorandum of understanding and delivered it to the selectmen in January 2004. After apparently ignoring it for 11 months, the selectmen finally announced in December that they were not interested in an agreement.

The town has no control over the library budget. Harpswell has its town meeting, it has two residents on the library board and the town administrator is an ex officio member of the board.

The library is not willing to reach out to Harpswell with additional services. In the memorandum of understanding, the library offered several services, including providing home delivery to housebound residents and setting collection depots at places of the town's choosing.

Appropriating $50,000 to pay for library cards for Harpswell residents will be cheaper than paying the request of $95,918 and provide the necessary services we need. Currently, cards are $65 each. That would be $98,280 for the 1,512 cardholders of July 1, 2004. That is not much of a saving off $95,918. When the cost of a card goes up significantly with Harpswell's withdrawal, that savings will turn into a very big loss. Try the math at $75 or $85 or even $95 per card! Also, the library provides many more services to Harpswell residents than merely the ability to take out books.

The library only benefits a limited number of people. On July 1, 2004, there were 1,512 Harpswell cardholders. This represents 1 out of every 3 of the 5,123 men, women and children in Harpswell.

The town has two local libraries. With interlibrary loans and the Internet, Harpswell does not need Curtis Memorial Library. Our local libraries fill an important niche. They provide meeting places when they are open and specialize in modern fiction, children's books and videos. However, 1,512 cardholders seem to say more is needed.

There is no library on Harpswell Neck. Probably Curtis Memorial Library is closer for residents of Harpswell Neck than either the Cundy's Harbor or Orr's Island libraries.

Furthermore, local libraries are expensive. Cundy's Harbor library requested $11,000 from the town this year. That's about $2.75 per item. If we terminate our relationship with Curtis, our local libraries will become more expensive because they will have to pay for services Curtis now provides as part of our agreement.

Curtis Memorial's request comes to less than a dollar per item plus all its valuable services. Now, that's a bargain!

Burton W. Taylor Jr. lives in Harpswell.


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Last edited on 01/07/2010