The power of your local library card just got 70x more powerful.
As public libraries serve as welcoming “third” spaces in our Midcoast communities, there are so many new resources and programs offered that the public has access to. Only, so many people still don’t know about them.
Not surprisingly, it was Maine’s librarians themselves who brainstormed alternative ways to give more people in the state broader access to libraries. At The Maine Library Association's Fall 2018 Conference (including the Maine InfoNet Pre-Conference) librarians in attendance “expressed a strong desire to develop initiatives that would strengthen broader library resource sharing across Maine,” according to Maine.gov’s website.
That conversation developed into a pilot program called the Maine Reciprocal Borrowing Program in September 2019, which will wrap in September 2020.
It's referred to as “walk-in,” borrowing card, because if you possess a local library card, you can walk into 68 libraries around the state and check out items.
A van goes around weekly to the libraries and does delivery service, scanning the bar codes and bringing the inter-library loan items back to the original libraries. Many libraries have deliveries every week day; some libraries have fewer.
Amy Levine, director of Rockland Public Library said, “We jumped on board as soon as we knew the state was going to do this pilot program, because it’s just such a great opportunity to extend our services. People like the flexibility and the opportunity to walk into most of the libraries in the state and check something out on the spot.”
The Advantages of Having a Card
For young and low-income residents
In the past, if you wanted a library card, you usually got the cheapest deal in the town you lived in, often for free. But, that limited you to the offerings of that particular library. If you lived outside the town, you had to pay for a non-resident library card. The tiers have changed over the years, but today, a single non-resident membership in some Midcoast libraries is nearly $50, (due in part to how the library is funded by taxpayers). Still, with rents, food costs and utilities in Maine higher than the national average, choosing necessities over purchasing a library card tends to be the case.
Now, if you are a resident of Camden, Rockport, Rockland, or Belfast, you can obtain a free card and access certain unique items and collections of other libraries that were previously off limits to non-cardholders.
For college and grad students
College and graduate students in Maine, now are also finding this pilot system incredibly convenient. Colby, Bates and Bowdoin are all participating as well, so Midcoast collegiates can borrow school-related materials from the colleges, and return them to their participating hometown libraries, eliminating the need for a long commute.
Adding to the power of the card is the already existing Interlibrary Loan Service (LLC), where participating libraries use a courier to deliver library books and materials from one library to another.
“If someone wants a book, we can usually get it in less than a week, through the van delivery, if it’s not a really popular title, but if the person needs it right now, he or she can go to the library where it is available, walk in and check it out right on the spot,” said Levine.
Not everything is allowed to be borrowed, however.
“Every library has a few things off limit, and for us it’s about the devices,” said Levine. “For example, we have a telescope and musical instruments that are not available for this program.”
Steve Norman, director of Belfast Free Library, said of the new pilot program, “This is another example of how libraries work together to provide better service to the public. There was a small group of libraries in southern Maine that had reciprocal borrowing agreement for a couple of years and we also used their model as our template.”
“People who commute are especially pleased,” he said. “If they live in a town with a participating library, yet work in another town with a participating library, [borrowing and returning materials] works out very well for them.”
Norman said almost everything that a Belfast Free Library card holder can check out works out the same for a cardholder from a participating library. “They can check out everything with the exception of special equipment and kits,” he said.
For at least eight more months, Maine taxpayers and residents should put their cards to work at participating libraries and literally “check out” new resources while they still can.
Participating Midcoast Libraries
One card gets you access to all four Midcoast libraries. Find out what you can check out by clicking:
Camden Public Library
Rockport Public Library
Rockland Public Library
Belfast Free Library
Wiscasset Public Library
Boothbay Memorial Library
Skidompha Public Library
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
ROCKLAND—On Wednesday, December 18, a classroom in Rockland’s South School looked like a book sale with 4,600 children’s books filling every available table and box underneath.
The best part? Every single book was given away for free.
This is the fifth year educator Jenny West got to feel like Oprah Winfrey and do the “Favorite Things” Giveaway, in which every student from South School got to pick 10 books to keep and bring home.
“I started the Books in Every Nook program years ago because I’m a reading teacher here at South School and I was finding that many students didn’t have books in their homes,” she said. “So, to solve that problem, I came up with the idea of gathering new and used children’s books and then re-distributing them to students once a year.”
Not many people realize how much work goes on behind the scenes to do this giveaway. West spends her time year-round collecting books and a number of volunteers help her to set it up. “I get books everywhere,” she said. “I collect a lot over the summer from library book sales. I go to yard sales. I get books from local publishers and authors who donate books every year and then I get people who donate money for me to go out buy books.”
“In past years, we’d typically allow students take five books home, but we have 300 students this year, and with so many to give away, I’m allowing them to take home 10,” said West.
In 20-minute increments, each grade assembled inside the classroom where West explained how to select a book and how many could be taken. The reaction from the students when they discovered they could select 10 this time, was to simultaneously throw their hands up in the air and cheer or jump excitedly up and down. And then, like an episode of Supermarket Sweep, the kids swarmed the tables, looking for books that interested them.
“We carefully planned this to get the books in their hands right before they took off for Christmas break,” said West.
Asked what types of books she knows how to buy for the students, she said, “They love nonfiction. They love reading about real things, especially animals. I don’t think I have a single nonfiction book about animals left and I bought a good 300 of them.”
The older grades tend to like the chapter books and more fiction titles.
The entire room organized like a library: in fiction sections, nonfiction, picture books, chapter books, poetry, biography, even a Christmas section.
At one point a 2nd grade boy walked up to West. “Do you have anything scary?” he asked.
She instructed him to search the far table. “There’s a bunch of Goosebump books over there,” she said. Delighted, he found a couple of R. L. Stine’s best sellers.
“We’ll probably give away 3,000 books today,” she said. “At the end of the school year, we do an open house and I give away the rest then for the summer break.”
Dressed like a Christmas Elf, West said, “This is my favorite day of the year. It’s so great to see that kids still love books. The first group of students that came in this morning only to discover they could keep 10 books this time—they went wild. One little girl asked me, ‘We get to keep these forever?’”
For more information about the program contact email@example.com
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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