Scarborough Public Library Director Nancy Crowell looks up at the collection of books that are out of reach to many of the library’s visitors. Drew Johnson / The Forecaster

At the Scarborough Public Library, books are crammed on out-of-reach shelves, furniture is stuffed into staff areas, and the building’s power units and WiFi router are mounted to the walls of a janitor’s closet.

The library has been making do since residents rejected an expansion plan, 1,488-1,235, in 2006. More than 15 years later, the library’s trustees believe the time is right to give it another shot.

A rendering of the proposed library. Rendering / Simon Architects

Trustees renewed their efforts for an expansion in 2016 and began to work on designs in 2018. After a slowdown due to the pandemic, the board is now poised to have its $13.9 million expansion project on the ballot in November. Voters will be asked to approve a bond not to exceed $13 million, with the remaining money for the project to be raised through private fundraising.

With voters’ approval, the library would expand from 12,884 to 35,060 square feet via a two-story addition and atrium.


The Town Council will vote next month on sending the project to a vote in the Nov. 8  election. Most councilors at a workshop with library trustees last week indicated their support, but a few had concerns about timing.


Other projects are on the horizon in the town, including a potential community center at The Downs and a new school building.

“That’s not in the distant future,” said Councilor April Sither, adding that details such as costs for design and construction are not yet known for those two projects. “That’s something we’re going to have to deal with really soon.”

“You have these things going head to head,” said Councilor Don Hamill.

Library Director Nancy Crowell told The Forecaster she sees the library project as complementing a new school.

“The people who believe in a strong community and strong community services will vote for the school, will vote for the library,” she said. “I see us as complementary in that respect. The philosophy of a strong community being a strong literate society, we’re in that together.”

Councilor Jean-Marie Caterina said the council’s opinion is not what they’ll be voting on next month.


“We’re making a decision whether the people of the town of Scarborough are going to choose to bond this,” Caterina said at the council workshop. “With all due respect to the school folks, it’s not ready for prime time yet … We’ve got something here that’s ready to go, that’s needed in the community. Let the people decide. Let’s let it go to the ballot.”


Trustees Vice President Susan Powell told The Forecaster that the project is important for the town.

“We want to be the library of the future,” said Powell, chairperson of the building expansion committee.

Gone are the days when libraries were simple, quiet places to read, research and do homework. Libraries everywhere have scrambled to keep up with rapidly changing basic needs, including providing computer labs, online databases and technology training.

The Scarborough Public Library’s digital database is messy, outdated, and is currently being stored in a closet. Drew Johnson / The Forecaster

As of June 2021, the Scarborough Library had over 61,000 books in its collection, and another roughly 46,000 e-books, audiobooks, DVDs and downloadable audio and video files.


The library, constructed in 1989, is not tailored for 21st century use.

The library’s expansive database, which stores its collections and archives digitally, is jammed into a closet. Some tables, chairs and couches for reading have been replaced by computer labs and, with little storage space, the displaced furniture has ended up in offices and break rooms.

Some staff members share offices meant for one person. Some of the library’s seven full-time and 12 part-time employees resort to taking their lunch break in their cars, Crowell said, because the lunch room can only seat four people.

Even the most basic use of a library – book browsing – has become a tall order for some residents. Books are stacked on top of one another or placed on high or foot-level shelves in tight aisles.

“They are too tight, they are too high, they are too low,” Crowell said. “Anybody with any mobility issues has a really difficult time. Rather than becoming a wonderful circulating collection that people can browse comfortably, it’s become a warehouse for books, which is not what a library is supposed to be.”

Even though the ever-growing collection is in a corner of the building, there isn’t enough space for community meeting rooms – something that has been in high demand, Powell and Crowell said.


The largest meeting room currently at the library seats 25 comfortably for clubs, lectures and training sessions. Drew Johnson / The Forecaster

“We only have two (meeting) rooms now,” Powell said, with the largest able to seat 25 people comfortably. “A lot of times people can’t book the times they want because they’re full.”

The proposed expansion calls for seven meeting rooms, one of which, proposed to be on the second floor of the addition, could seat up to 150 people with ample space for breakout sessions.

“With the big meeting space we’re planning, we’ll really be able to expand our programming,” Powell said.

Additional meeting space, Crowell said, would allow more space for afterschool activities. There would also be room for current programs involving sketching, knitting and book clubs, among others. The library could also host new programs like concerts, art exhibits and business programming.

Plans call for the existing building to be used for the adult book collection and reading space along with staff rooms and offices. The addition’s first floor would be divided into a common area, small reading rooms and teen and children’s sections with study spaces. The addition’s second floor will have meeting rooms, a computer lab and more space for staff and services.

The Town Council will vote Aug. 17 on whether to put the project on the November ballot.

The current library building, to the left and shaded pink in this rendering, will become the adult section. A new atrium, yellow, will lead to the new youth section, light green and dark green. Contributed / Simon Architects

The second floor of the library addition will house staff offices, purple, a large meeting and activity room, light blue, and smaller meeting rooms. Contributed / Simon Architects

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