Consultant: Falmouth library popular, overcrowded

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FALMOUTH — In a public question-and-answer session Tuesday, newly hired consultant Nolan Lushington spoke candidly with concerned citizens, town councilors and library users about the future of Falmouth Memorial Library.

“Falmouth is in a funny kind of position – it has the No. 1 most intensely used library in the state,” Lushington told the group.

The library hired Lushington to begin the process of putting together a comprehensive overview of its space needs in response to a request from the Town Council that the Library Board of Trustees update a 2003 report. That document was used as the basis for the Community Facilities Planning Committee’s recent recommendation that the library move to the Lunt School building.

Lushington said his recommendation would likely mirror the 2003 report, which he would review carefully before making his own determinations.

Citizens and councilors peppered Lushington with questions, ranging from concerns about fiscal responsibility in difficult economic times, to desires to expand the children’s and teen sections.

He told the crowd he was not entirely sure what would happen with libraries in the next five years, but that most recently libraries have been constructed according to a formula based on two square feet per town resident. Falmouth’s library, he said, would probably require between one and two square feet per capita.

“I have not designed a library that is one square foot per capita in 15 years now,” Lushington said. “The taxpayers would be delighted, but the library users would hate it.”

He said Connecticut requires by statute that any library built with public funds must project space needs 20 years out, something he does not think is a good idea. He recommended five- to 10-year space-needs projections at the most.

Lushington, who lives in Hartford, Conn., and summers on Chebeague Island, met Monday with the library board of trustees, then spent Tuesday morning meeting with library staff.

“A library is a resource-rich community center,” Lushington said. “A library is a community center that provides a wide range of services to a wide range of ages.”

He said Falmouth Memorial Library is overcrowded and that the computer workstations, with their wooden stools, are uninviting. He said the staff work stations are crowded and uncomfortable and that the popularity of the interlibrary loan program has caused it to far exceed the available storage space.

“This is one of the most heavily used libraries in the state,” he said. “I attribute that to the staff. It’s a good staff working in overcrowded conditions.”

Lushington, who used to be the director of the Greenwich, Conn., library, has worked with eight other Maine libraries, including Bath and South Portland, to make recommendations for space needs and improvements. He has worked on approximately 200 library projects and recently won the New England Library Association award for distinguished service.

Library Vice President Julie Rabinowitz said the board was very pleased with Lushington’s work so far.

“He really examines everyone’s viewpoint,” she said. “He’s really looking at on-the-ground demands, not pie-in-the-sky dreams.”

Lisa Preney, a frequent critic of the library’s process in seeking more space and leader of the Falmouth Citizens for Sound Choices group, said she was pleased with Lushington’s presentation.

“I appreciated his candor,” Preney said. “I wish we had done this a year and three-quarters ago. The community would have really benefited by it.”

Lushington will present his full report to the Town Council and library trustees at a public meeting on Oct. 18 at the library.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or