The New Cooperation | EditorialStronger networks will make all libraries stronger Mar 1, 2011
At LJ , we may never have had so many budget-focused news stories as in this past year. We’ve chronicled cuts to individual libraries in funding, hours, services, staff, and buildings around the country.
The cuts are now reaching new levels, however. More recently, we’ve seen story after story on slashes to statewide cooperatives, consortia, and regional systems that receive most of their monies from their states. As governors and legislators in California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Illinois, New York, Texas, and elsewhere struggle with revenue loss and debt, libraries are often taking a disproportionate hit, and these organizations are at risk.
Some of these systems, like those in New York and Illinois, emerged in the halcyon days of the 1950s and 1960s, when library money was flush. While they are not identical, most offer services such as union catalogs for sharing resources and delivery services to move materials around the state, as well as ongoing training for librarians that individual libraries can’t themselves afford. Many also contract for and manage shared integrated library systems (ILS) and purchase databases, negotiating better deals than their members could.
Now systems that have already shrunk in the previous decade face additional downsizing. As Michael Kelley reports in this issue, in Illinois the five northern systems and the four southern systems will become two systems, effective July 1. The transition means job cuts and “the loss of a brain trust,” as Illinois Library Association (ILA) president Gail Bush points out. Nevertheless, the administrative change must take place immediately, with the consolidation of departments like HR and finance. Determining a new service model, however, will occur over the course of FY12, which begins in July.
“What is the service model for two systems [from the current nine] that move over 30 million items a year for 800 multitype libraries?” asks Tom Sloan, executive director of DuPage Library System, one of the five northern regionals. “That takes time and serious planning.”
It is clear, however, from the overwhelmingly negative reaction to the state funding cuts in Illinois and elsewhere, that the public relies on delivery and on the shared resources the systems ensure. As Robert Doyle, executive director of the Illinois Library Association points out, “When we were really facing closure, the community sent 20,000 emails over 48 hours to the governor and controller and had money released.”
Beyond the legacy services like delivery, however, the new regionals, cooperatives, and consortia that emerge need to develop new services and funding models that aren’t single source. DuPage’s Sloan embraces the opportunity to look at some shared underwriting costs from foundations and the vendor community, along with a combination of member fees and fees for certain types of services.
Like those in Illinois and elsewhere, Lyrasis’s Kate Nevins is no stranger to consolidation, though Lyrasis, formed initially by the merger of SOLINET and PALINET in 2009, is a multistate, fee-based, nonprofit, not a state-supported cooperative. “Cooperation among libraries provides so many tangible and intangible benefits,” says Nevins. “The key challenge is the purpose, benefits, and community we create.... Financial viability is dependent on that.... By aligning our objectives with those of libraries as their service models change and making use of technology, we will continue to thrive.”
Despite the challenges, librarians remain convinced of the viability of these networks. Librarians have a long history of cooperation. Even amid structural changes and job losses, they remain committed to sustaining that tradition in order to foster better service. Stronger networks will make all libraries stronger.
|Francine Fialkoff (email@example.com) is Editor-in-Chief, LJ|