Library reports uptick in circulation numbers; new plans

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FARMINGTON – The local public library is reporting brisk business as residents turn toward cheaper forms of entertainment in the economic downturn.

Head Librarian Melanie Taylor Coombs said that the Farmington Public Library’s experience is similar to what she has been hearing throughout the state and country. In 2008, the library’s circulation numbers were up 7,000 from the previous year’s. That’s 7,000 more books being checked out. Coombs said that 2009 is already off to a strong start.

“Our numbers are through the roof,” Coombs said. “Most librarians I’ve talked to are reporting this is going on everywhere.”

Head Librarian Melanie Taylor Coombs holds a document exhibiting the Farmington founding fathers’ support for a public library. This artifact, along with many others, will be scanned into a digital database by a local task force consisting of personnel from several organizations.

Coombs hopes to focus the library on providing more free services for patrons as the economic climate worsens. From repairing the roof to a new audiobook system to more computer time, Farmington Public Library is continuing to expand its role in the community.

Feb. 23 is the current date for the state to role out a new audiobook system for the patrons of participating libraries. This system is accessible through a console program on residents’ home computers, or through the machines at the library, and allows them to download more than 1,000 popular audiobooks.

These can then be listened to on the computer, or on a Mp3 player, ipod or transcribed to a CD. The titles self delete themselves after two weeks. Unlike the current system the library uses, which is to basically rent out CDs which can be damaged or lost. Overdrive doesn’t require the library to purchase individual titles.

The system, called Overdrive, will be available for use at Farmington Public Library for free. Coombs noted that the fee for the library was in the $250 to $500 range, which is roughly what someone would pay to use such a service on their own.

“It’s great to see Maine jumping on board,” Coombs said. “This will replace CDs eventually, it’s just the way it’s going.”

The library also will soon be installing seven new public access computers, which are beginning to draw long lines of people during peak hours. While the four current machines are good for browsing the web, Coombs said the library’s board of directors were eager to get some new computers capable of running programs at more optimal speeds.

Those new computers were purchased with a Gates Foundation grant.

The Farmington Public Library is continuing to raise money to complete roof renovations. Coombs did report that a $50,000 grant from a foundation that wished to remain anonymous had come in last year, bringing the total grant money raised up to $71,000. Coombs said she expected that the fundraising efforts would need to continue for some time in the current economy before the work could be completed.

Progress with the online museum project is ongoing, as the library, Farmington Historical Society, educators in MSAD 9 and the University of Maine at Farmington work to digitally scan historic documents into a database. That project was made possible thanks to a $10,000 grant from the Maine Historical Society.

Coombs had a document at the library she used as an example of the history that the project aims to preserve. It consisted of a statement, signed by the founding fathers of Farmington, from 1799 which announced their support of the formation of a library association.

“Social libraries have ever been considered of the highest utility to those who have [accepted] them,” the document reads. “If we take but a cursory view of those towns who have established libraries, we need no further proof to convince us of its utility.”

A closer look at the statement of support, dated 1799.

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