Portland Public Library may add 'portable library' service

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PORTLAND — After a random telephone survey of 400 Portland residents, the Portland Public Library has decided to move forward with plans for a “portable library” to service areas of the city that do not have library branches.

“What the survey told us, what we already know, is that spaces matter,” library Executive Director Steve Podgajny said.

The survey was conducted the Portland Research Group and was funded by a grant from the Davis Family Foundation.

Podgajny said the survey respondents indicated physical library buildings are important, something that became clear when the library considered closing branches in the Riverton, Reiche and East End neighborhoods. While the communities protested the closures, only the Riverton branch was spared.

But a new plan has emerged to not only resume, but expand services to areas of the city far away from the newly renovated main library branch on Congress Street near Monument Square.

“The understandable first response to think of a portable library is as a bookmobile,” Podgajny said.

But the proposed portable library would be more than that.

Podgajny said the library would probably purchase a van and equip it with wireless technology and computers, enabling the mobile unit to provide digital library services and a wide variety of educational services to people who are unable to travel to the main branch.

“It’s not just showing up as a bookmobile,” he said. “It’s also delivering programs.”

The library now offers some off-site programs at elderly housing centers in the city. Podgajny said the portable library would allow expansion of those services to other neighborhoods and at special events.

“We have tons of public programming,” he said. “What we don’t have is a consistent, integrated program that goes on a set schedule and really brings the library to the people.”

Podgajny said the portable library is still in its earliest planning stages, and that building the staff infrastructure to provide the service would be one of the first steps. He said the library would likely be working with the City of Readers citizen group, which promotes reading.

With the increasing popularity of ebooks and the increase in digital media availability, libraries have been evolving to meet the changing needs of the public, Podgajny said. Yet, despite that trend, book-borrowing is still the primary use of the library, the study found.

The library loaned 500,000 print items last year, Podgajny said.

“Books remain important to people,” he said. “It’s very clear, though, even to casual users, that the ebook is growing.”

The library will continue to expand ebook services, and consider adding new technology, like online streaming audio-book services.

“I think libraries are key to participation in digital reading for a lot of members of the public,” Podgajny said. “We don’t just provide product, we’re ambassadors for that material.”

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter: @emilyparkhurst.