MOUNT DESERT — It might seem odd, but Mount Desert Elementary School officials think it’s just fine — even better than fine — that the school doesn’t have its own library.
The Northeast Harbor Library, which is just across the street, doubles as the school’s library.
“Students have access to a better and bigger and more diverse library than they would if the library was a room in our school building,” said Caroline Pryor, chairman of the Mount Desert School Board.
“If you go to the library when classes are there or after school, you feel the energy. Kids are eating popcorn. There’s a big pile of backpacks. There are kids parked in every section of the library, and that’s priceless.”
School Committee member Todd Graham, who has two children at the elementary school, agrees.
“It’s a unique opportunity for our students to engage with the larger community, and just as important for the community to have that interaction with the students,” Graham said.
Principal Gloria Delsandro said the school is lucky to have the Northeast Harbor Library as its library.
“Not only do they provide wonderful programming for our students during the day, but also after school and throughout the year,” she said. “The library is really a big part of the children’s lives.”
Something new this year that Delsandro is excited about is the library’s addition of programming for middle school students.
“They worked with me to make sure we could offer a library class once a week for the sixth, seventh and eighth graders,” she said.
“We love having the school be part of the library because it brings life into the library; I think it’s wonderful,” library Director Elly Andrews said.
Children’s librarian Robin Strauss spends designated class times with students in each grade.
“We either do a read-aloud or a book talk or silent reading, and I present our new material to the kids,” she said.
Strauss teaches first graders about checking out books.
“That’s always an exciting time for them. And they get to learn about the responsibility of how to use a library, that if you don’t bring a book back, you can’t take another one out.
“We have some really voracious readers in the combined fourth-fifth grade class, so almost every day, I have them popping in looking for another book to read.”
Because students get accustomed to using the library while they are in school, they feel comfortable coming in on their own after school and on weekends, Strauss said.
“They use the computers. Some of them do homework. We have games and other things they can do in addition to reading.”
After school on Tuesdays, a dozen or more students come to the library for “Lego club.” Then their Lego creations are displayed in the children’s room the rest of the week.
Every January, the MDES Student Art Show covers the walls of the library’s Mellon Room.
“It’s a place where community members who aren’t parents can see what’s going on in the school,” Strauss said.
Andrews said a lot of children are exposed to the library before they even get to elementary school. Toddlers at Mount Desert Nursery School a few blocks away come for story time.
As happy as everyone is with the relationship between the school and the library, there is a question of the appropriate level of financial support.
Andrews has calculated that with Strauss’s salary and benefits and other expenses, it costs the Northeast Harbor Library about $84,000 a year to serve as the library for the school.
This year, the school is paying the library $44,000 to fill that role.
Delsandro’s draft budget for next year calls for increasing that to $49,000, and she proposes upping that amount by another $5,000 the following year.
Andrews said that, while she would like the school to pay more for all of the services the library provides, she recognizes that the library also benefits greatly from the relationship.
“We have a really nice thing going with the school,” she said. “We love it.”