The library: Now more essential than ever

| Letter from Sarah Sparks |

Dear members of the New Gloucester Board of Selectmen,

I am writing this letter in advocacy of your consideration of the proposed budget, which impacts the New Gloucester Public Library.  I strongly urge you to reconsider this item. The need for access to public libraries continues to be a high priority for our community.  New Gloucester librarians provide access not only to books, but provide access to other resources, knowledge and serve as a social hub for all generations and income levels.

Firstly, in a time when we seem to be entering an economic recession, the need for access to public services is likely to increase.  During my regular visits to the NG library, I have witnessed librarians assisting patrons with basic computer skills and at times teaching them how to access online resources. The following quote summarizes the value of the local librarian positions:

“In many communities, librarians are also ad hoc social workers and navigators. They help people figure out the complexities of life, from navigating the health system to helping those with housing needs. This ‘go-to’ role has influenced library programming and events, with libraries providing advice and connections to health, housing, literacy, and other areas.” (Cabello & Butler, 2017, “How public libraries help build healthy communities,”  https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2017/03/30/how-public-libraries-help-build-healthy-communities/)

Now more than ever, community members will be seeking assistance from trusted local sites and local people.  

In addition, the New Gloucester library serves as a social connector for all generations.  It currently acts as a hub for out of school learning for our youth.  Current programs include regular story hours, the home of a local 4-H club and access to a public Makers Space. These are valuable, free additions to all community members and provide services not available anywhere else in New Gloucester.  Research shows that early literacy and STEM engagement impact learning in the classroom, as well as contribute to attitudes and engagement for building workforce development skills.  For older generations, the library has several regular groups, include books clubs and a cribbage group.

The New Gloucester Library currently is able to provide support with two librarians and have a broad offering of open hours, which make it accessible to all community members. A study by the Pew Institute in 2013 found that American adults “94% say that having a public library improves the quality of life in a community” (Pew Research Center, “How Americans Value Public Libraries in Their Communities, 2013, https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2013/12/11/libraries-in-communities/).” Summary findings from the same study indicate “libraries are also particularly valued by those who are unemployed, retired, or searching for a job, as well as those living with a disability and internet users who lack home internet access” (Pew Research Center, 2013).  At a time when unemployment is rising and social isolation at its peak, restricting long-term access to a public library is a disservice to the community.

Reducing staff would greatly impact the ability to provide quality-programming, public services and open hours to the community. I urge you to reconsider the value of this public resource and provide adequate staffing to allow it to maintain current services.


Sarah Sparks