“Libraries are vital to island communities,” writes Emily Graham in her introduction to the recently completed 2003 Maine Island Libraries Needs Assessment, conducted by the Island Institute with funding from the MBNA Foundation Library Grants Program. “They not only act as information centers,” she continues, “but as community centers. In many cases these libraries are vibrant social institutions with circulation averages far beyond mainland averages.”

Graham, who worked on the assessment with Cherie Galyean, a former Island Institute Fellow who focused on the downeast island libraries, is now a library media specialist at Memorial Middle School in South Portland. She was an Island Institute Fellow at the North Haven Community School library in 2000-2001.

Graham’s strongest recommendation to those responsible for island libraries in the future is to “focus on the needs and professional development of Maine island librarians.”

“It is the librarian who makes the library,” she writes, “and her strengths, to a large extent, dictate the development of the library.”

Graham’s report recommends that “every effort should be made to connect island librarians to one another – every librarian I spoke to responded positively to the ideas I shared from other libraries. They all were interested in learning about what was happening in other island libraries and in sharing their experiences with others.” The Maine Island Libraries Association (MILA) meetings held in Rockland during the past two years “have been very popular with the librarians who could attend.”

The report also suggests that workshops be made more available to island librarians. “Ideas for workshops that were mentioned during my visits and over the past three years on North Haven are: teaching research skills, basic cataloging and downloading MARC records, planning programs, weeding, internet research, creating web pages, and planning new facilities,” she writes.

The island libraries in the Mt. Desert region were assessed by Cherie Galyean while she transitioned from her Institute fellowship at the Vinalhaven School library to her current position as Island Institute Senior Fellow based in Bar Harbor. Both Graham and Galyean hold masters degrees in library science and information.

The Island Institute has begun taking steps to help continue island library information sharing.

In answer to requests from downeast islands for additional library assistance, the Institute created a new senior fellowship. Working from Bar Harbor, Galyean will focus on school and community libraries on Swan’s Island, Great Cranberry, Islesford, Frenchboro and Isle au Haut.

In order to provide more support to librarians reporting feelings of isolation and the need to share ideas and resources with colleagues, the Institute will continue to host monthly MILA meetings in Rockland, as well as alternate monthly meetings in Portland and Ellsworth to allow more convenient networking and information sharing to librarians in those regions.

This year’s first meeting in Ellsworth was held on Nov 5 at the Ellsworth Public Library. The first meeting in Portland is planned for Dec. 12 at the Casco Bay Line ferry terminal.