The funding model for Portland Public Library (PPL) is anything but intuitive. The “public” in our name might give one the impression that government funding covers our entire operating budget. However, at PPL, government funding (City of Portland, State of Maine and Cumberland County) actually makes up 87% of our $4.2 million operations budget. These public funds pay for staff, utilities, and other infrastructure costs; they do not pay for anything related to our programs, our collections, or our outreach. The books on the shelves, subscriptions to physical and online periodicals, our bookmobile –anything that falls in the 13% of our budget that is allocated to collections and programs is made possible by annual gifts to the Library, earnings from our endowment, foundation support, and fees.
In essence, what PPL is now and can be in the future – our margin of excellence – is the result of a true public/private effort. Public funds ensure we have a building and staff; private generosity guarantees we have a collection and programing that serves every individual who comes to one of our branches or logs onto the Library’s website. As a non-profit organization, PPL is able – indeed, obligated – to raise funds so that we can help all members of the Portland community to enhance their creativity and imagination, increase their level of knowledge, and fully participate in our common, civil life.
So it is with celebration and gratitude that we acknowledge the recent bequest of Franklin Talbot of Portland to our endowment. Franklin Talbot was a colleague, having worked previously at the University of Southern Maine library. His gift of $101,000 will establish the Franklin Talbot Fund and increase the Library’s endowment fund to approximately $5.4 million.
The yearly income from the Talbot Fund will be used to acquire materials and support programs and exhibits in the arts and humanities, with preference for biography, American history, and British history. Mr. Talbot’s gift will support our efforts to provide all Library patrons and visitors with access to materials and programs that promote a greater understanding of the human experience and of the creative process.
All gifts to the Library make an impact, and we are grateful that Mr. Talbot was both generous and creative in giving back to the community by supporting the Library. If you are interested in establishing a named endowment fund at the Library or in including Portland Public Library in your estate plans, please contact Emily Bray Levine at 207-871-1700 x755 or Levine@portland.lib.me.us
I took off my shoes and lined up with a group of ten Portland teens and faced instructors Kimonee and Kianna. “This is a black-belt school,” we chanted in unison. Kianna and Kimonee, two black-belt trained instructors, approached teaching teens self-defense at the library with both a seriousness and a passion for their discipline. The focus was not only on self-defense but also on self-respect. The program attracted a range of library users. Some of the teens were familiar faces to me and others I had never seen before. The first session started out as all boys, but by session four, a third of the participants were female.
Each class started with a series of exercises that involved pushups, sit-ups and jumping jacks. Once our hearts were thumping, we were ready to learn new techniques. Kianna and Kimonee demonstrated their skills against each other, demonstrating what to do when faced with an assailant. Fighting was a last resort and the focus was on how to thwart a predator and to learn confidence in leaving safely from a dangerous situation. It got even more interesting when they brought in props such as (fake) knives and guns. Some teens laughed and others were more serious in mastering the skills to defend themselves as they practiced amongst each other and played the roles of mugger and victim.
Since starting work as the Teen Librarian for the Portland Public Library, I had wanted to do a program that involved something physical. I had two reasons for this. One is that beyond the power of books, the library has enormous potential as a social community place for teenagers. Many of our teen patrons have a common interest in soccer. They communicate and enjoy the company of their friends while playing FIFA Soccer on the library’s XBOX. I wanted to get them away from the TV for a moment so that they could learn something new. I also wanted to offer an activity that was social, but also civil. Such a program would teach ideas of self-respect and empowerment in a way that was fun and not too didactic.
The second reason is that I believe that the library is a great place for self-education. It is a place for teens to try new things, whether it is reading a work of fiction or being introduced to something that might not be offered to them in school. Just as I do not expect someone who checks out a novel to become an author, I do not have the expectation that someone who attends a library program will become an expert in whatever subject the class or activity is based around. Either way, it is an introduction and a jumping off point to get teens excited. The library’s strength is that it can foster a love for self-education, something that should continue for lifelong learners inside or outside of a classroom.
Karate seemed ideal for our library space. No special equipment was needed and teens did not need to come with any prior knowledge. On the other hand, the idea of karate was not a completely foreign one to them, even if they had never tried it. Most teens are familiar with karate whether it is through watching movies, reading manga or learning about it through books. I was lucky enough to find two great instructors willing to help out. Initially I contacted Kianna, a woman in her early twenties, and she suggested that she co-teach the program with her teenage sister Kimonee. Great! The teens responded well to the youthful energy these two radiated. I believe that some teens left the program learning something new. And for those who didn’t, they still had fun and are more likely to visit the library again. Either way, this program was a success and definitely something I’d be happy to offer again.
Spend just a few minutes in any one of the Library’s branches, and you quickly see how many activities we host every day. Story times for our emerging readers, our Brown Bag Lunch series with local authors, exhibits and lectures on a range of topics – just to name a few. All our programing has its roots in our robust collection holdings, but these offerings also depend on having enough flexible space.
PPL has been working for some time to develop a long-term collections management strategy. While the Library has been the fortunate recipient of donated storage space over the past five years, we knew this was not a long-term solution. Our firm commitment to our print collections – which we will continue to expand alongside our eResources – meant we needed to find a sustainable solution to collections management. We found that one of our close, long-time collaborators, Maine Historical Society (MHS), was grappling with the same issues – how to maintain and grow collections, how to house materials appropriately while having them available for circulation or exhibits, how to ensure programs have enough space to flourish.
The more we spoke with our friends at MHS, the more both Boards felt that a joint solution would be ideal. On November 15, following a lengthy and exhaustive due-diligence process, the Library and MHS jointly purchased a property at 1000 Riverside Drive in Portland that will ultimately serve as a shared collections management center (SCMC). The 35,000 square foot building is in the process of being developed on a timetable that will allow both organizations to move in sometime early spring.
PPL and MHS are sharing all purchase and renovation-related costs equally, and our financing was arranged accordingly. No taxpayer funds are being used to acquire or refurbish the building, and our fundraising plan does not anticipate any public monies. There are a number of individuals and private foundations who are very excited about this collaboration and its impact on the ways the PPL and MHS can serve the city of Portland from their Congress Street locations. Some of those folks have already stepped forward to support this project while others are considering how they’d like to be involved.
I am excited both about this collaboration between two of the city’s cultural anchors and the implications this has for our respective programs as well as the evolving dynamic of Congress Street. For us here at the Library, the SCMC will be critical to our ability to move sections of our holdings off-site so we can offer engaging, educational programs for all ages in our branch locations. We will be able to continue to build our collection – including the strongest fiction collection in Northern New England – knowing that we have quality storage available for items, easily accessed for circulation to our sites and around the state. The SCMC will also serve as the headquarters for the Library’s Bookmobile, which continues to provide materials and programing to those Mainers – seniors, the recent immigrant community, those on the economic margins – who face physical, cultural, or practical barriers to reaching a Library branch location.
While this may seem like a new effort for the Library, it is really just the latest expression of our core values: our long-standing commitment to enrich our community, to steward our collections, and to offer programing that enriches, enlightens, and engages.
Watch for Part 2 of this post next week, with an update on our Burbank and Riverton branch locations.