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Gilmanton residents pitch in for the library they love

Carson Rogers, 3, helps his friend Charlotte Edwards, 1, put away her carpet square after story time at the Gilmanton Library; Wednesday, March 20, 2012. 

(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

Carson Rogers, 3, helps his friend Charlotte Edwards, 1, put away her carpet square after story time at the Gilmanton Library; Wednesday, March 20, 2012. (SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

Don’t turn the page on Gilmanton’s year-round library.

Not yet, anyway.

The town’s Year-Round Library Association, responsible for raising money to keep the library afloat, has collected $23,000 since election day four months ago, when voters rejected a warrant seeking taxpayer money.

The association’s work isn’t done, but the money raised thus far, half of what is needed, will allow the library to remain open until at least Feb. 1.

Initially, the library was scheduled to close its doors Nov. 1.

“We’re very optimistic and very pleased,” said Fred Buchholz, treasurer of the association. “Since that vote failed last March, people have been coming out in droves to try to support us.”

The warrant asked for $45,000 to fund the library, with the rest of the overall $70,500 budget coming through private donations. Buchholz thought the price tag was a steal for residents, saying, “You go to neighboring towns and ask, ‘How can you support a library for $45,000?’ ” Buchholz said. “Every other small community that has a library is looking for a quarter of a million dollars to support it. This is a bargain.”

The library has grown into a polarizing issue. The idea for a full-time library (two others in town are seasonal) surfaced about 10 years ago, and it was built in 2008, in an 18th-century barn near the town’s grade school. The cost was $1 million, with $700,000 coming privately and $300,000 worth of labor and materials being donated.

The measure asking the town to pay for the operating costs failed in 2009, losing by 100 votes. Attitudes, though, changed over the next three years, as residents voted to add the expense to their tax bill.

The library features children’s programs, access to the internet and movies for all ages, and serves as a gathering place for the entire community.

But, some supporters of the library claim, the switch from a traditional town meeting format this year to the SB 2 style, which moved voters from an open forum to the polls, squelched the flow of information and left residents without the knowledge needed to make an informed decision.

That, people such as Buchholz and association President Anne Kirby said, resulted in many library patrons staying home on election day, which led to a 400-322 ballot vote against town funding.

Opponents who voted against increased taxes said they were angry, claiming they had been promised that funding for the library would always come from fundraising and donations, never taxes.

“That was a misconception at the beginning when someone said that,” Buchholz said. “It was never stated. The only thing that was stated was we won’t ask the town for funds to build the library, which we didn’t, so basically the town has a beautiful free library and all we’re looking for is support.”

Once beaten at the polls, the association and supporters became proactive, meeting at the library to create revenue streams.

“I was amazed by the number of people who showed up, close to 100,” said longtime resident Brenda McBride, an outspoken proponent of the library. “We had the cheap seats with people, up there in the hayloft, and people came with all kinds of ideas.

“The best thing was to see a lot of young people taking hold of things, not just the old folks saying, ‘We need this because we don’t drive anymore,’ ” McBride continued. “Young families were represented by a parent. They spoke for their needs as families, and they seemed willing to step forward with ideas.”

One idea that’s emerged is for residents to pay the equivalent of what their tax bill would have been had the measure passed – $9 per $100,000 of assessed property value.

Elsewhere, there’s a group called The 400 Club, which is seeking 400 people to donate $100 each. Also, a fundraiser entitled The Summer Fling, held on the library’s 5 acres, included a band, a barbecue, a petting zoo and face painting, and it raised $2,800.

“I had the best time of my life,” McBride said.

Corporate donations have also helped, plus the association’s website has spread the word further than anyone could have imagined.

“People have donated who we don’t even know from around the country and Europe,” Buchholz said. “Not a significant amount, but it’s impressive that we do get some donations like that.”

While the fundraising continues to try to reach $45,000, which will keep the library open through the next fiscal year, July 1 of 2014 through the following June 30, the issue will be addressed again at the deliberative session next spring, just as it has through the past five years.

“We need to give the town one more chance now that we use SB 2,” Kirby said. “Once more to see how the people feel about it.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or
rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

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