PORTLAND – Library and school officials are developing a plan to keep the Portland Public Library’s Riverton branch open indefinitely and for longer hours, but with less space, fewer books and no staff.

Patrons would check out their own books using an automated system.

School officials are considering using part of the library, which occupies 3,500 square feet in the Riverton Elementary School, for adult education programs. Also, some of the library space is being considered for recreational programs.

It’s unclear when the changes would be made.

Last month, the City Council added $90,000 to the Portland Public Library’s budget to keep the Riverton branch open for another year in its current configuration. Councilors said they wanted to give library officials time to develop a new mobile library system.

Library officials originally planned to close the library at Riverton this year, saying they couldn’t afford to keep all five of Portland’s branch libraries open. They will close branch libraries at the East End and Reiche community schools on July 1. The Burbank and Peaks Island branches will remain open.

Stephen Podgajny, director of the Portland Public Library, said library officials will honor the council’s wishes and keep the Riverton branch open for another year without any changes.

But he said he doesn’t know whether the school system needs the library space for the coming school year. If it does, he said, library officials will talk with neighborhood residents and the City Council before they make any changes.

School Superintendent Jim Morse is on vacation and could not be reached for comment.

The Portland Public Library, though largely funded by the city, is not part of the city government and has its own board of trustees.

Morse and Podgajny will discuss the issue June 21 at a meeting of the Riverton Community Association, beginning at 7 p.m. at the Riverton school.

Chip Edgar, the president of the association, said many residents hope to find a way to improve the library and expand the hours, and they don’t like the idea of a smaller library with no staff.

He said the library is a social place, and it’s important for neighborhood residents to interact with the three staff members who work there.

“The human interaction — from my point of view, that is what a library is all about,” Edgar said. “They are going to reduce the Riverton library to the equivalent of an ATM machine.”

Even though the council gave the Riverton branch a one-year extension with the extra funding, library officials must start figuring out how to serve patrons of the branch when it closes for good on July 1, 2011.

“We can’t wait until the last minute to have a serious conversation with partners to make sense for the library’s mission,” Podgajny said.

 

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

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