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South Portland library outlines post-layoff plans for teen patrons

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South Portland library outlines post-layoff plans for teen patrons

SOUTH PORTLAND — Library Director Kevin Davis has released his plans for creating a dedicated space for young adults at the main branch on Broadway.

The main branch used to have a stand-alone room for young adults in the basement, but it was abruptly closed after the February layoff of part-time librarian Reta Nappi, who was one of five veteran city workers released for budgetary reasons. 

Since then, some residents have criticized city officials for not presenting a plan for delivery of young adult services. That criticism came to a head during a protest last week at City Hall.

At the protest, several middle school students said they and their friends have stopped using the library because the book collection has been absorbed by the main collection and they did not feel welcome among the adults.

Davis said in a press release that there will eventually be a dedicated space for young adults. That space will be distinctly themed and furnished with the help of the Friends of the South Portland Public Library in an effort to make young adults feel welcome and more comfortable.

"We want this to look nice as well as to be functional and appropriate for the space, the users and the collection," Davis said, noting the collection is now available during all library hours, rather than on a part-time basis. 

Davis said the youth area will be an evolving project over the next few weeks as shelves, furniture and decorations for the space are acquired. Davis said he, the Library Advisory Board and the Friends hope to solicit feedback from teenagers and parents throughout the process.

In response to criticism of the teen room's abrupt closing, Davis said the decision was made to quickly move the young adult collection into the main collection as a way to keep those materials available during the transition. The young adult section consists of about 6,000 books and CDs.

Although some argue those materials are hard to find and kids have stopped going to the library, Davis said that is not the case. 

"Those materials are now being used in record numbers, despite the disarray," he said. 

Davis said Wednesday that, since the layoff, there has been a 40 percent increase in the circulation of young adult materials, up from 571 items in March 2008 to 798 last month. Circulation for April appears to be continuing that trend, he said: through April 14, 514 young adult items were checked out compared with 667 for the whole month of April 2008.

It's unclear whether the library's plan will be welcomed by disgruntled users, who argue that books are nothing without Nappi, who developed personal relationships with the kids and had an knack for recommending new material based on readers' prior interests.

Meghan Gaven, a Mahoney Middle School parent who last week was among the rain-drenched protesters, said she is encouraged by the library's efforts to create a designated space for children and wished the effort well.

However, Gaven said she has to check out books for her daughter because her daughter no longer goes to the library. Gaven predicted more would be needed to draw teenagers back into the library. 

"The program wasn't just about the books," Gaven said. "It was the person and the privacy that drew (teenagers) there." 

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net.