Portland Public Library, ME, To Close Two Branches, Revamp Service Model
"Portable Library" will provide services at various community locations
Norman Oder -- Library Journal, 05/20/2010
- Six locations too many for 63,000 people compared to peer libraries
- Flat budget for three years
- Beyond the bookmobile to mobile services and new spaces
Faced with three years of flat funding and the closure of two of five branches, the Portland Public Library (PPL), ME, will shift its focus to provide more off-site “Portable Library” services in various locations, more service at the main library, and an increased digital presence.
“I think the ground is clearly shifting under us, in terms of [user] behaviors, needs,” Executive Director Steve Podgajny told LJ. “This is the moment where we either lose physical spaces and contract, or we lose physical spaces and expand.”
He noted that, with six locations (until July 1) in a city of 63,000, Portland is overbranched compared to every regional peer and will retain a high ratio of locations.
PPL also aims to use the renovated main library to play “a leadership role in Portland’s cultural community.” As for the outreach strategy, Podgajny said, “Portland’s the right scale. We’re central to the life of the city, and have a lot of good partners.”
In April, after the city announced that three branches would close, PPL proposed a fundamental change, “to create a comprehensive and flexible service that transcends the walls of a building.”
With $40,000 from the Davis Family Foundation, PPL said it will survey citizens, businesses, and others to help design the Portable Library, aimed at areas where branches close and beyond.
Though the Portable Library will lend materials, the concept is not a bookmobile but an attempt to build “active relationships with partners who do some of your mission already,” Podgajny said. Examples include support of language literacy, career development, and homework help.
According to a library document, even a “branch-for-a-day” could be set up in places from donated commercial space to a portion of floor space in a store or public institution. The Portable Library would include rolling display carts and bookcases, with specific carts devoted to children’s picture books, YA, adult fiction, audio books, and more.
Branch saved for a year
The City Council this week restored $90,000 for one year to operate the Riverton branch, one of the three branches slated for closing. It is more distant from the main library than the other two and is the center of a Sudanese immigrant community.
The funding will allow PPL to transition the branch a year later to the Portable Library concept. “We expect to have a different service model in cooperation with the schools, not a shared space, more a community space,” Podgajny said.
It could involve self-service lending, with no library staff, as well as a focus on adult and career education.
Of the two branches closing, the Munjoy branch is shared with a school. PPL will leave some of the children’s collection in the school library.
PPL has more ambitious plans for the Reiche branch, which occupies space in a school complex. With community groups supplying volunteers, PPL will help create a reading room—with perhaps one-third of the current 13,000-item collection—in collaboration with the recreation department, neighborhood association, and community police office. PPL will supply technology and also some programming.
Books in the reading room will not be tracked in the library ILS but will be reviewed via a separate database that can point PPL to refreshing the collection.
“If we don’t find a different way forward, we’ll have no presence at all,” Podgajny said.
Cuts hit home
PPL’s city funding, 81.7 percent of the $3.8 million annual budget, has been flat for three years. (That works out to about $60 per capita, but PPL also serves the larger region.)
In FY 2009, the flat budget led to the reduction of ten percent of staff and 18 percent in hours at the main library. Flat funding in FY 2010 was offset in part by a union agreement to accept a wage freeze.
PPL has a professional staff of 45.5 FTE. The branch closings will mean the loss of 2.5 FTE positions—each site has two 20-hour a week employees, plus support staff—but those staffers may be moved to the main library, where positions were left open.
PPL will have lost 16 percent of its staff over three years.