Library seeks voter's support

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Our "community hub" — the Manchester Community Library — has been operating for just over a year and the increased usage from community members of all ages has been very rewarding. We constructed our 21st-century building at no cost to taxpayers, entirely with private funds, and we are grateful for the Town's help to operate Manchester's public library — a key community asset, a contributor in Manchester's economic development goals, and a core municipal facility providing unique services for community members regardless of their age, economic circumstances, or educational level.

Recognizing other tax pressures, we took a hard-line approach in building the 2017 budget to keep our request in line with normal budgetary escalators being considered by the Town and other organizations both public and private. While our budget relies on municipal funds to help support day-to-day operations it's important to note that the taxpayer share is going down, as we are diligent in efforts to diversify our revenue options. We must continue to expand our base of support to keep pace with rising costs and sustain our operations over the long term.

For next year, we are asking for $9,900 more to help address the higher costs that accompany higher usage — this represents a 5 percent increase over our fiscal year's 2016 year's appropriation, which was level funded to fiscal year 2015 and amounts to a 2.5 percent per annum increase between FY15-FY17.

The impact of this request on a Town of Manchester tax bill — from the Library's appropriation only and depending on the value of one's home — would generally range from a $2 to $4 increase over what is currently assessed. And, the Library's slice of the tax-bill pie would remain at 1 percent of what is paid each year. We hope townspeople will agree this is a worthwhile investment to help support a strong public library that meets the community's needs and is an important part of Manchester's infrastructure, joining top-notch schools, municipal services, and recreational facilities in attracting and retaining satisfied, educated, and productive residents. Remember, with this investment Manchester residents receive a free membership card to fully enjoy all that the Library offers. What is the new Library to our community?

The Library is an information and technology center, helping our neighbors bridge the digital divide. For no fee or purchase, people can come to the Library, log on, and become connected to the world—able to access state and federal programs, fill out online job applications, research topics, receive tech training, and leave better equipped to compete in this new age. In our first year, the Library's 13 public-use computers were used 5,977 times, and the free Wi-Fi was accessed 7,592 times. Over 300 members received an hour of free, personalized one-on-one tech tutoring to learn new skills at their own pace.

The Library is an education center full of literacy-rich programs, storytimes, books, games, hands-on experiences, and knowledgeable staff to instill a love of learning to our youngest citizens and prepare children to be successful in school. With encouragement through our popular Summer Reading Program, kids of all ages stemmed the dreaded "summer slide" with their commitment to read over the summer — registered readers grew to 274 youngsters from 125 in the old building, and attendance at summer events geared for children tripled.

The Library is a civic, cultural, and business center. Over 50 community organizations have used one of the multi-use spaces available, resulting in just under 350 facility rentals by community members, groups, and non-profits—averaging close to 30 uses per month. Over 107 students, entrepreneurs, and business owners have used a Touchdown Workspace for a private room to study, meet with a colleague, or conduct an interview.

The library is a valued resource center for books, programs, and materials. In the past year, 1,330 people became brand-new members, bringing our total active membership to 5,185. Over 28 percent of MCL members do not live in Manchester; they pay their fair share to support us through a non-resident fee to be a member of our Library as they value the movies, audiobooks, downloadable e-books, museum and park passes, access to databases, and books and magazines they can borrow—helping them stay informed and entertained on a budget. And contrary to a common belief, people are reading more than ever before. The number of times books, audiobooks, magazines, and also DVDs are checked out of the Library has increased dramatically, ranging from 32 percent to 90 percent to a staggering 430 percent increase in circulation in one particular non-fiction genre. Books for kids and teens have circulated a remarkable 178 percent more times than in the last year at the Mark Skinner Library. What a difference a year makes!

The Board of Trustees and the Staff strive to make the Manchester Community Library a vital community center. We welcome your comments and suggestions and hope you'll come and check out all that's happening at your public library, and join us as we evolve to respond to the ever-changing needs of our community. Thank you for your continued support.

Betsy Bleakie is the executive director of the Manchester Community Library.


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