One library would not adequately serve L-A

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Lbraries are used more often when they are located near where people live, work or shop.

There has been a lot of discussion lately regarding enhanced cooperation between city offices and agencies in Lewiston-Auburn. As an advocate and practitioner of L-A collaboration for many years, I welcome this renewed effort to look at sensible approaches to further these endeavors.

The Auburn and Lewiston public libraries have worked together for the last 40 years in search of better ways to serve our patrons and more cost-effective methods of operation. This has yielded a number of beneficial results, including free and open borrowing for residents of both cities using either library; expanded cultural programming, including the formation of L/A Arts; the BookReach volunteer program serving home daycares; and the recent step into the Minerva system allowing for Internet browsing of and requesting from each library’s holdings.

However, it has come to my attention lately that some of my friends and neighbors consider the construction of two expanded library facilities in Lewiston and Auburn a failing, or some sort of “missed opportunity.” This could not be further from the truth.

Yes, back in the early 1990s there was an L-A committee looking at the possibility of a joint library. And it is true that the group got bogged down in the question of just where to locate such a building. But what few people realize is that the joint library committee never fully explored the question of whether one library facility could adequately serve our two cities.

In researching other communities of 45,000 population or larger at that time, we identified (with the exception of Pawtucket, R.I.) no city in New England provided library service to their citizens from just one facility. They used multiple libraries to deliver the service. Even today, the Portland Public Library operates five neighborhood branches in addition to their downtown library.

The truth is, one library building could not adequately serve Lewiston-Auburn. People tend to use libraries more often when they are located near where they live, work or shop. And those who most need a public library typically have the least mobility – children, teens, and those of us not owning a car.

The public libraries in L-A are an important component of our educational infrastructure. Not all families have the same resources. For whatever reasons, not everyone begins on a successful educational path at age five. Some of us connect at 13, 20, or much later. Our libraries play a huge role in supporting a wide variety of learning patterns. In this age of the global marketplace where L-A is competing internationally for jobs, we must invest in educational opportunity if we are to have livable-wage employment for our children.

At the Lewiston Public Library we are also working on building community.

Our new Marsden Hartley Cultural Center provides spaces where individuals can gather to listen, learn, discuss and celebrate. In recent weeks these gatherings have included adults listening to planning expert Richard Barringer talk about the future of Maine, and teenagers enjoying music and poetry at an open mic coffeehouse. Two very different events, but at each we had well over 100 citizens interacting with their neighbors and celebrating learning and culture.

Lewiston and Auburn may still be separate cities, but we are one economic and cultural community – and a major one at that! The time for having one library administration may be near, but if we had made the mistake of building only one facility, it would have been another misstep of the past.

We should all take pride in the many ways that we are re-writing our history for tomorrow.

Rick Speer is director of the Lewiston Public Library.

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