“Essential” in more ways that one

Sunglasses on a cloudy day — A belt with suspenders — Yankee bobbleheads at Fenway Park – Superfluous? Redundant? Unnecessary? Non-essential? Of course — but the Chelmsford Public Library is that a non-essential service? According to a recent Lowell Sun story, it is.

Tell that to the 175,000 library visitors who walked in the door last year, the 13,500 people who attended programs or the 20,000 folks whose reference questions we answered in FY06. Also, tell it to the folks who booked the meeting room 1500 times last year and the library patrons who helped us circulate almost 600,000 items in FY06. We are the busiest library in the Merrimack Valley Library Consortium –it could be because 98.5% of our 2005 Library survey respondents rated our library services as “good” (19.4%) or “excellent” (79.1%).

Every day, the library is here for the community – and yes, we are here for pleasure reading, for entertaining programs, for fun but we are also here helping people with questions and problems that they consider completely essential to their lives. We are here when you need health and medical information, when you are searching for a job and even when a student forgets his or her textbook at school. (Tell the distressed parent that service is not essential!)

If you need the latest stock quote, want to know how much to sell your used car for, how to get a federal tax extension form, or are researching colleges, we are the place for you. We consult on how to build lightning rods, what colors a Victorian home should be authentically painted, how big a regulation Little League field is and when the federal milk subsidy began. We can even give you recipes for dog biscuits or turtle soup. Essential? You bet. Every question we get asked is important to the person asking it.

But imagine a Chelmsford without a library —

It had been raining for six days. The kids had watched “The Wiggles” so many times that Mrs. Dewey was humming the theme music in her sleep. They had read every picture book in the house and they needed a new selection. But mostly Mrs. Dewey needed human contact – story time would do the trick – parents, children — people she could really talk to and share her frustrations about potty training, temper tantrums and how to get strained pea stains out of her favorite silk blouse. Too bad the local library had been cut from the town budget. Story time may seem non-essential but to a parent who is starving for adult interaction it is the perfect place to get advice on how to get the baby to sleep through the night —

Fortunately we are here and we see how we are needed every day when

A young woman moves into Chelmsford – she is from a foreign country and is hoping to acclimate to life in America. She needs practical advice on how to get a driver’s license and where to register her car, but she also needs social advice. She wants to know how to find babysitters and doctors for her young children, the best playgrounds and pre-schools.

The library sponsors English conversation circles run by generous volunteers who provide the perfect environment to encourage non-native speakers to “try on” English and ask questions about American culture.

A patron comes into the library to look for a job. He is shown how to use Internet job sites, the local classified ads, resume books and how to research companies using library databases. Eventually he finds a job as a salesman, but then discovers that his computer skills are not at the level the company requires. He is told about the “One-On-One” computer sessions the library offers. He comes every week for six months, and becomes comfortable using Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint, as well as using email to communicate with his customers. He tells the reference staff that if the library had not offered this program, he would have had to pay for this training on his own or lose his job.

A teenager comes to the desk and asks for books about alcohol abuse. The teen services librarian pulls a pile of books off the shelf — a mix of research materials and self-help – as they continue to talk it becomes apparent that the teen is dealing with an actual experience – one of his friends was killed in a drinking and driving accident. He is in the library trying to find ways to cope. She quickly moves onto books that deal with grief and coping with depression. Each week we find books pulled from the shelves and shoved into unlikely hiding places. Books that cover topics like date rape, sexual identity, self-mutilation and eating disorders. The library and its resources are a haven for teens that are struggling with difficult issues and want confidentiality as they discover more about themselves. And the librarians are there to refer them to the resources they need.

For all of these folks, the Chelmsford Public Library is absolutely essential. Do you have a story to tell? Has the library changed your life in any way? Share your experiences with us and submit your story to the library — either via the form on our website or by e-mailing it to bherrmann@mvlc.org – You can also pick up the phone, drop it in the mailbox or tell us in person. We would love to hear your stories.

But if the above stories don’t convince you, let the dollars and cents speak to you. Try our library calculator at www.chelmsfordlibrary.org. Click on “Library Information” and then “About Us” to find the calculator. It will put a dollar value on how much the services provided to you by the library would cost if you had to pay for them directly. Try it! You might be surprised. An average family of 4 attending story time once a week and checking out books, magazines and DVD’s could spend potentially $10,000 a year for those same services and materials provided by the library.

The cost of providing library services to the people of Chelmsford from theFY07 municipal budget? $1.4 million. The smiles on the faces of library patrons as they attend a program, have a question answered, or find the book, CD or DVD they’ve been searching for — Priceless —