Our Path to Becoming a Maine Public Library

Most new libraries start with someone providing a building to house it. Our Town of Unity can not afford to buy or rent a building for a library.  Jean Bourg and Melissa Bastien (former owners of 93 Main Coffee Shop and Copper Heron B&B) have bought a building at 38 School Street (next to the Community Center)  with an ample parking lot and wheelchair-accessible entrance and bathroom, great natural light and spacious rooms, totally to code. When you have a look at the building, you’ll see why it is perfect for a town library. It’s actually a new building, built in 2012 on the footprint of the old cape that was there. Importantly, they filled in the basement of the old building and the new building sits on a reinforced slab which will support the weight of a lot of books.

Building Plans for 38 School Street

The building has two parts with separate entrances. The School Street entrance leads directly upstairs to two bedroom/bath suites. The parking lot entrance opens into the reception room of the library. The two parts never meet. They are offering the entire downstairs for use by a library at zero rent. They would like the downstairs to pay its part of the utility bills. They will use the upstairs as AirBnB suites to pay the mortgage and other expenses of the building. Being privately owned, the building will still pay property tax.

A nonprofit (Unity Public Library) will own and run the library. Two legal documents will define the relationship between the building owners and the library. First, a lease will specify that the downstairs will be given rent-free to the library for as long as they want it. The lease will also specify that the library may move to another building with no penalty and that the lease will hold even if the building is sold or foreclosed on. Second, in wills, the owners will leave the building to the library. Both of these documents can be inspected by the town’s attorney before the vote at town meeting.

We have talked to several public libraries in other small towns and learned that each library-town relationship is different with respect to who owns the building and who pays the bills, but they all get financial support from the town. In fact, public funding is required to be a public library in Maine. In Unity we are fortunate to have TIF funds that can give us a starter grant and not to have to take it out of general appropriation thus not affecting our property taxes.

The three documents listed above spell out the requirements that have to be met to be a Maine public library. These requirements include having a paid part-time librarian, having a computer system to run the library software, having a sign out front and a published phone number, being open at least 12 hours a week, offering public WiFi with at least one computer for the public to use.  This is how we will spend the TIF funds: meeting the basic requirements.  With that fund in hand, we can immediately start grant writing from the many sources available to registered libraries.

It is important to remember that the library is a separate entity from the building that houses it. Everything that TIF funds will be spent will be things that could move to a different building. Nothing will be spent on the building itself.

There is a wealth of volunteer talent in Unity. We have assembled a group of people who can work on all parts of library development, including fund-raising, technology, design, grant writing, and programming. We are enthusiastic and ready to begin. The Maine Regional Library System offers a consultant to each of its nine regions (we are in region 6) to assist libraries in meeting the requirements to be a part of the system. We will be making full use of this resource.

We will be requesting a appropriation of TIF funds for our initial expenses. TIF funds are special funds that can only be spent on economic development projects. The appropriation of these funds will have to be approved at a special town meeting which has been scheduled for Saturday, June 5, 2021 at 9 am at the Unity Firehouse.

If you have questions or want to be a part of our library team, please get in touch by emailing info@unitypubliclibrary.org.

A Full Service Community Library

The Unity Public Library we envision will have a well curated collection of books, audio books, CDs and DVDs. Beyond that, it will be a community information hub, connecting us to the world with high speed WiFi and a wealth of digital resources including interlibrary loans, access to the Maine State Library, and access to databases like AncestryLIbrary and Learning Express as well as business resources like ReferenceUSA and DemographicsNOW.

The Unity Public Library will be a community activities hub, with book discussion groups, book reading/signings by authors, educational presentations, art exhibits, story time and story walks for children. None of these activities were possible for us when we were permitted to use the Quimby Library at Unity College.

The Unity Public Library will have open hours convenient to the community and not dependent on a college’s academic schedule. It will be a welcoming public space, not a visit to a non-public institution.

To get a sample of what a public library can provide, visit the websites of these small town Maine libraries:

See a list of all public libraries in Maine.

The People’s Incubator: Economic Impact of a Public Library

“Public libraries build a community’s capacity for economic activity and resiliency. Many families and caregivers rely on the library to provide important pre-school reading and learning. Many people entering the workforce rely on libraries to get them online. Local businesses are increasingly tapping into the library’s online databases to keep themselves competitive and to find synergistic new business opportunities. Library facilities often anchor downtown and commercial developments, and are attractive neighborhood amenities.” 1

Libraries have become business incubators. Here are some of the many ways our library will support small businesses, entrepreneurs, and job seekers.

  • The library will provide essential business databases like ReferenceUSA and DemographicsNOW. Businesses will be able to access these remotely or on site.
  • The library will build a basic business collection including books and periodical subscriptions on how to start a business and books on topics like marketing, finance, and intellectual property. Other business-oriented books will be added as users request them.
  • The library can sponsor business workshops on topics like starting a business, developing a business plan, getting financing, getting copyrighted.
  • The library can offer meeting room space for businesses as well as video conferencing.The library can pull many business development resources together in one place, similar to what the Auburn Public Library has done.
  • The library will offer the use of computers, fast WiFi, and quality printing/copying.
  • The library can partner with the Unity Business Exchange (UBX) for guidance on the most useful acquisitions, local resources, and programming opportunities and to provide local business contacts for direct information.
  • The library can invite organizations like the US Small Business Administration, SCORE, and Maine economic development offices to provide workshops and training on things like accounting, marketing, e-commerce, incorporation, etc.

References:

  1. Making Cities Stronger: Public Library Contributions to Local Economic Development
  2. Five Ways Local Libraries Can Help Small Businesses and Entrepreneurs
  3. 25 Ways Your Library Can Support the Small Business Community
  4. Start That Business at the Library
  5. How entrepreneurs can use their local library to access free resources and get ahead in their business

Questions

Q: What will be the ongoing costs to the town?

A: All building costs, insurance, maintenance will be paid by the building owners. The town will have no responsibility for any building-related expense. At town meeting time each year, the Library will ask to be an item on the budget of Unity, Troy, Thorndike, Freedom, and Burnham. These town contributions will go toward basic library expenses such as stipends for part time librarians (required by the state), software & database licenses, periodical subscriptions, book purchases, etc. None of that money will go to the building owners. The building owners will continue to pay property tax to the town of Unity.

Q: What if the college returns to campus and the library opens?

A: That would be great; we miss the kids. The Quimby Library’s location, academic schedule, and lack of community programming has not worked well for the town.  Using a college library as our town library was really unusual.  Other college towns (Waterville, Farmington) have their own public libraries.

Q: What exactly will you spend the TIF money on?

A: We will spend it on the most critical things to get us up and running: library automation software, computer & printer, bookcases, stipend for part-time librarian, tables & chairs, a circulation desk, a sign. Note that all of these things would move with the library if it ever chose to move to a different building. No funds are being spent on the building.  

Q: How exactly will it work to have a library using a space in a privately owned building?

A: The library will be renting the downstairs for zero rent and with a for-life lease.  The owners will use the upstairs and will deal with building maintenance, plowing, utilities, WiFi, insurance, etc. Some carefully worded legal documents will define the relationship among the owners, the library, and the town.  The library will have the right to move to another building if ever they wish.  They will also have first rights on buying the building. The by-laws of the non-profit Unity Public Library will state that if the non-profit entity ever dissolves, its assets will go to another library. The building will be willed to the library when the owners die.

Q: What are the library’s other sources of funding?

A: There are a lot of grant sources available to libraries. We will be making several grant applications in the first few months.  Like most libraries, we will do an annual appeal, sell surplus books, have special fundraisers.  We will make an annual request on the warrants of Unity and surrounding towns.

Q: What is the timeline? How soon could a library be open?

A: We are already accepting donations and cataloging books. With the TIF allocation in hand, we can purchase shelving, computers, software, etc. The town funding will also show grantors that the library has public support. Our opening with a limited collection could happen in late summer or fall, matching the time when the Covid vaccination rates will have made it safe to be in a public space.

Q: Can the library get the children’s collection from the now closed college library?

A: We have made our first formal request for that donation and have been turned down.  That doesn’t mean we are done asking, or writing letters, or gathering petition signatures.  If the college doesn’t return to campus in the fall, our asking will become much more insistent.