PORTLAND – Riverton residents pleaded with city officials Monday night to keep a staffed Portland Public Library branch in their neighborhood’s school.

That’s unlikely, given the budget troubles the city will face next year, including a $4 million reduction in federal funding, said library Director Steve Podgajny and Superintendent Jim Morse.

They urged the residents to view a plan to automate the library branch at Riverton Community School as a better option than closing it down.

About 15 residents at Monday’s meeting questioned whether the branch could provide desired services without librarians.

“I’m not a sophisticated guy,” said John Hume, noting that he avoids automated checkout lines at big-box stores. “I want to deal with a human being. I really think this is a slow death for the Riverton library.”

The Riverton branch narrowly escaped closure when the 2010-11 city budget was being prepared in May. The City Council added $90,000 to preserve the library for a year, but it moved ahead with plans to close the Reiche and East End branches on July 1. The Burbank and Peaks Island branches will remain open.

The Portland Public Library is governed by its own board of trustees but is largely city-funded.

In the midst of the budget discussions, Podgajny and Morse talked about ways to preserve a public library presence at Riverton while addressing the need for additional classroom space at the elementary school.

“There’s been no intention of closing the branch,” Morse told the residents. “Riverton seems like the place where we might be able to join forces (in sharing and reducing costs).”

A tentative plan called for converting part of the library branch into four classrooms that would be used by Portland Adult Education, which moved into Riverton at the start of the 2009-10 school year for a two-year period. The classrooms that adult education occupies in the school would be returned to elementary students.

Under the plan, the library branch would stay open but its collection would be reduced from 27,000 to 13,000 books, DVDs and other items, Podgajny said.

The automated library would be overseen by the Adult Education staff, so it could be open 60 hours a week instead of only 20 hours a week, Morse said. Patrons would take out books by using a bar-code reading machine or by making special requests through the Adult Education staff.

Librarians would visit regularly for special events such as toddler hours or summer reading programs coordinated through the city’s recreation department, which offers swimming and other programs at the school.

The Riverton branch is Portland’s third-busiest public library, after the Main and Burbank branches. It circulates 65,000 items per year and has 1.5 full-time employees, according to Steve Weigle, branch manager.

Podgajny said that a library without librarians would be less than ideal, but it may be the best solution if the city’s financial outlook remains dim next year.

“We’re trying to maintain a physical toe-hold in the neighborhood,” Podgajny said.

Chip Edgar, president of the Riverton Community Association, and several other residents at the meeting said they will continue to pressure city officials to keep the Riverton branch open and fully staffed.

 

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: [email protected]