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Middleport library marks birthday as vote looms

The Middleport Free Library is celebrating more than eight decades of service to Royalton and Hartland with a birthday celebration this weekend.

As they celebrate the library's past, officials are hoping residents will help ensure its future.

Residents go to the polls May 15 to vote on a repeal of a library tax adopted just last year.

The Royalton-Hartland Board of Education voted 5-2 last month to place a repeal proposition on the ballot for the May 15 referendum, which will also include the proposed 2012-13 school budget and a slate of board candidates.

Last year, the district accepted the library's request for a vote on a permanent tax levy to raise $103,000 per year for the library. That vote resulted in a 176-12 decision in favor of the tax, but 200 residents later petitioned the school board for a repeal vote.

They cited the fact that the vote was not placed on last year's school referendum, but took place at the library itself three weeks later on a paper ballot. They also contended that the school district had mailed no prior notices of the library vote. And they maintained that the library only notified members of the Friends of the Library of the special vote.

The decision at the polls added about 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation to residents' property taxes.

The library, at 9 Vernon St., is currently in its 83rd year of operation.

"I encourage people to come and visit the library," said Library Director Rose Bernard. "I'm also encouraging them to come out to vote and do what their hearts tell them to do.

"In 2011, the Middleport Free Library had a circulation of 31,295 for books, audio-visual materials, periodicals and other materials, and we have more than 3,100 patrons with library cards," she added. "We are very busy with so many clubs and groups meeting here, as well as people using our free computer, Wi-Fi and Internet services."

The idea of establishing the library began with a Middleport resident's request to the state government in 1929. Marjorie Reynolds, a member of the Middleport Study Club and author of that letter, became the library's first director when it was chartered that same year. Her daughter, Doris Brunnell, is credited with offering preschool story hours, one of the first programs of its kind in the state.

The library was located at a couple of sites before it found a permanent home when Robert Stilts and his family donated their house and land 1942.

The library was dedicated to the men and women serving in World War II on Nov. 11, 1945, and was rededicated in their honor in 1995.

The library houses several unique local history collections, including copies of the "Hammond Gazette," a newsletter created by Ray Hammond and sent to local members of the Armed Forces serving in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. The library also features a number of paintings of area homes and landscapes by Myrtle Wilmot.