Portland residents launch drive to save Riverton library

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PORTLAND — Residents have collected nearly 2,000 signatures in an effort to save the branch library at Riverton Elementary School.

The effort comes as Portland Public Library officials are considering reducing the branch’s in-house collection and staff to save money.

Chip Edgar, president of the Riverton Community Association, said the group hopes to use the petitions to put pressure on the library and City Council.

“We’re not trying to get anything on a referendum,” Edgar said. “These are signatures of support.”

Residents worked in two-hour polling place shifts on Election Day at the Armory on Stevens Avenue and at Grace Baptist Church on Washington Avenue to collect the signatures.

RCA volunteers said people who had heard about the potential for library closure enthusiastically signed the petition.

“We have to get the word out so people are informed,” Moore-Wood said.

Moore-Wood said the group will go door-to-door to continue collecting signatures

Library Executive Director Stephen Podganjy said he is pleased by the effort to generate support for the branch, which he would like to see remain open for 20 hours a week.

“We have actively encouraged the neighborhood to communicate with the council regarding their desire to keep the branch open,” Podganjy said. “The neighborhood’s voice being heard is part of good public process. We are supportive of their effort and think that they are the most effective voice to advocate for the branch to remain open.”

The Portland Public Library is funded by private and public sources. Podganjy said 80 percent, or about $3.1 million, of the library’s nearly $3.8 million budget comes from taxpayers. 

In June, the council approved $90,000 to keep the Riverton branch open for one year, but would not make a multi-year commitment.

“The City Council has told us quite directly that the current year’s funding is for one year only and it is transitional to allow us time to develop a plan to maintain a library presence in the neighborhood,” Podganjy said.

Residents sprung into action last spring when it became known that library and public school officials were ready to immediately implement changes, despite the additional funding. Their opposition led to postponement of the plans, which included replacement of librarians by machines.

Podgajny said the library would continue to have a foothold in the community, which would have access to the library’s full collection through a delivery system.

But he said the machines are still expected to replace the librarians.

Superintendent of Schools James C. Morse had said the space occupied by the branch would be used to expand the Portland Adult Education program. But about a dozen residents met in June with Morse and Podgajny and convinced them to hold off a year on all the changes.

RCA member Sally Donelson said this week she hopes the petition signatures will help convince city officials to continue funding the branch, which accounts for only 2.4 percent of the library’s budget. But she predicted more needs to be done.

“This is not enough,” Donelson said. “In my opinion, they are on a mission to close that library.”

Edgar said that opinion is one shared by many residents, even though Podgajny has repeatedly said he wants to keep it open.

“I don’t disbelieve it,” Edgar said. “But (Podgajny) hasn’t done anything to support that comment.”

But Podganjny, who is setting up another neighborhood meeting, said he truly wants to keep the library open, but must plan for the reality of the upcoming budget.

“I am not sure what actions have not matched our words,” he said. “If some folks don’t believe what we say publicly then I am not sure what to think.”

Edgar said the group will continue to work with library, school and city officials to keep the branch open, even though many residents feel as though closure is a certainty. 

“We are totally focuses on what we have to do to get the library to stay open,” Edgar said. “If you close down the Riverton branch you are isolating a big part of the city.”

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

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