Rockport residents hear results of library listening tours
Rockport — A series of five Listening Tour meetings designed to garner public input on the future of Rockport Public Library culminated with a final meeting Jan. 21 to share the library committee’s findings.
Jane Haskell from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension led the meeting at Rockport Opera House designed to help inform community members of the results of the tour, which provided numerous forums during which residents could voice their opinions on what works – and doesn’t work – with the programming, building and current location of the library.
Space was the original issue that brought the need for expansion or construction of a new building to the forefront; as residents spoke out at previous forums, their words were documented and became part of the data that resulted in the committee’s findings.
“We did a lot of writing on flip charts,” Haskell said. “I was asked to put the data into a word cloud. There were lots of different reviewers and what I did was put their review into a cloud. How a word cloud works is that that the more times a word or phrase is repeated it gets larger.”
Haskell noted the five word clouds -- one from each meeting -- all looked the same after reviewing 27 pages of raw data and each cited concerns about space, programming, location and staff.
“There are some definite general areas of agreement,” Haskell said. “First and foremost, you love your library.”
One of the questions put out during the tour was, “what does the library represent?" -- the answer: a resource.
“I don’t have a computer, the library does. I don’t have Internet at home, the library does. I can’t afford a book, the library has it free of charge,” Haskell said. “The library is the resource of something I don’t have.”
Other aspects like friendliness of the staff, the welcoming feeling people get when they enter the library, recognition that it is a civic institution, diversity of programming and the use of space were mentioned numerous times in the data.
The need for more space both inside and out, programs, staff and other services offered by the library were only a few pieces to the puzzle.
The topic of moving the library to a new location outside the village continued to strike a cord with some residents.
“Taking the library out of the village, I feel would be a mistake,” one resident said. “It brings people in and gives them a reason to come into the village.”
Another stated the library is an icon of the village and said they were dead set against it moving to any other part of town.
Seth Silverton addressed the audience in support of keeping the library in the village for two specific reasons.
“One of the things we need to be mindful of is that this entire process takes place in the context that there are two profound outside forces,” he said. “First is the communication revolution, which changes the nature of content inside the building. Second is what is going on in American villages and towns with resource scarcities is people are more interested in walking to access such things as libraries.”
Another point of contention was the use of "woeful" as an adjective to describe the amount of space the library currently has. Members of the audience spoke out against the use of the word and at some point the situation it described seemed to get lost.
“I listened to this presentation right through,” one man said. “The slide before last where you talk about a 'woeful' use of space came out of left field. It was never, ever in any comments before and I disagree totally with your analysis.”
Another man spoke up and said, “The term 'woefully inadequate' sounds like you are talking about the needs of the community. I have been to two of the sessions and I never got that impression. 'Woefully inadequate' makes it sound like they aren’t doing anything.”
After the audience had an opportunity to speak, Library Committee Chairman Kathleen Meil addressed the next course of action.
“We are in the process of forming a steering committee that will report back to the Library Committee with answers to those longer questions,” Meil said. “We will be able to answer some more of the specific questions as well.”
Meil added that after the steering committee reports their findings, the next step is to submit those findings to the select board.
Back in March, the committee presented to the public two ideas for construction of a new library at the site of the former Rockport Elementary School on West Street but those plans were met with criticism. Close to 100 residents came to a meeting in July at Rockport Opera House to support the notion that there is room for expansion at the current location in the village.
To that end, in November, residents voted to make a change to the Shoreland Zone Overlay District, adding municipal buildings to the acceptable use section of the ordinance. With plans approved by Maine Department of Environmental Protection, renovation or new construction of the public library could take place at its existing location in the harbor village.
Dwight Collins is a reporter/photographer for The Camden Herald.
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