John Clark with his retired librarian hat on today. The following comment was posted on the Maine library listserv a week back in response to a job posting for a part-time masters level library position. I share it as a start for this column. Why do we value such competent people so little?
“It’s beyond sad that here in Maine libraries are only able to offer $18-20 an hour for a position that requires a master’s level degree and that level of skill. The same candidate could make $20 an hour at Marden’s and also receive a sign-on bonus. I don’t know what, specifically, can be done but I strongly believe that the salary levels at libraries are historically suppressed by the fact that it is traditionally a female-dominated field. When I presented those ideas to our city manager and attempted to show how the requirements listed in our job descriptions exceed those for many city positions that pay much better, he was aghast at the concept that librarians should be compared to non-librarians for pay purposes. If we are ever to be paid more appropriately, I think that is the direction in which we must go.”
Maine is fortunate to have the library system we do. For a rural state where many towns are barely getting by, Maine libraries do so many things and offer so much. I say this as much from the user standpoint as from having been a Maine librarian for over twenty years. Thanks to creativity and persistence, we have MaineCat, the statewide system that allows patrons in a large number of libraries to find and reserve books, movies, and music online. Those are delivered to most Maine libraries at no cost through the statewide van delivery service. When I was the librarian in Hartland, a one person operation, we lent and borrowed over 3,000 items annually. If we had to pay postage for the ones we lent, that would have run us in excess of $6,000 per year, more than our entire materials budget.
Then, we have the online databases on the Maine State Library, that are available to all Maine citizens at no cost. https://library.digitalmaine.org/ On that same page, you will find information about Learning Express, and the Digital Download library. In the event your local library isn’t a participating member of the latter, ANY Maine citizen can get a free library card at the Maine State Library, and I believe Bangor and Portland Public also offer them as well.
These resources are just the tip of the iceberg. Public libraries exist to serve, and do so in more and better ways than almost any other social/government entity in the world. Most librarians are in the profession because they enjoy people and the challenge of finding the information people want, often when the patron isn’t sure what they’re after. I call it interactive reference. Someone comes into the library and asks, “Do you have medical books?” The easy response is “yes, we do.” But that’s not the correct one. Most librarians would engage the other person in a conversation, attempting to get at their real need. I had such a conversation in Hartland and what the parson really needed was information about the kind of cancer their mother had just been diagnosed with. I was able to provide a couple articles and a reliable website for them, a far more reassuring and comprehensive answer.
Libraries offer programs for all ages and got creative during the pandemic with zoom. Many sponsor book discussion groups, and thanks to the van service, can borrow multiple copies of the same title so participants don’t have to buy copies. Most libraries are happy to order new books for patrons as well.
We are happy patrons of the Waterville Public Library where kits are frequently available, particularly for kids. Beth and I spent part of last Saturday making paper bag kits with Reid and Piper, courtesy of WPL.
The range of items one can borrow from a library might surprise you. Depending upon the library, it includes, skates, telescopes, fishing equipment, and here in Waterville, pruning poles to cut down Browntail Moth nests from trees. https://www.watervillelibrary.org/news/article.php?id=790
Another brand new feature offered by Maine libraries is access to 20,000 comics, graphic novels and Manga through ComicsPlus https://www.watervillelibrary.org/news/article.php?id=772
Still another which just got updated is this: Welcome to the Maine Business, Science & Technology Library (MBSTL). https://libguides.library.umaine.edu/mbstl
Perhaps my favorite thing Maine libraries do is have book sales. These were severely curtailed during the pandemic, but are coming back. I particularly enjoy going to ones in Belgrade, Dover-Foxcroft, Eastport, and Lubec.
What do you like best about your local public library?