Sunday, April 3, 2011

Interlibrary Loans and Community Libraries: Endangered Species?

As the Otis Library proceeds with its strategic planning a new and providential issue faces Connecticut libraries. It also affects our relationship with local libraries. The proposed state budget jettisons entirely the interlibrary loan system. For a savings of less than $1,000,000 a highly successful program is jeopardized, and with it the survival of community libraries as we know them. Why so? That is perhaps an obvious question, but it deserves at least brief consideration. No library can afford to buy every desirable material. This is painfully illustrated by the conditions in small community libraries. Review the monthly statistics for Otis Library and you will find a core group of about 5 area libraries serving small communities that rely heavily on our materials and their availability to supplement the contents of their own financially strapped collections. That reliance is itself sobering and worth pondering, in as much as Otis’s ability to maintain a high quality collection has been handicapped by decreased municipal support over the past two budget cycles. Without the largess of community members such as the Edward and Mary Lord Foundation, Sachem Fund, Norwich Rotary, AHEPA, and the Friends of Otis Library our materials budget would amount to less than $30,000, a starkly marginal sum when compared to the $100,000 invested in materials in 2007-2008.
For certain of these small libraries $30,000 or $25,000, or $15,000 is a princely but illusory sum. Without the means to transport materials from comparatively well endowed peers, their status as community assets is diminished. Their ability to act as centers of community life is dramatically reduced. The question, as of yet unaddressed is, what happens next; Closure and consolidation with larger facilities? and if so under what conditions? Arguably, these communities have lost other services and survived-bus and trains, local high schools and hospitals for example, and they may absorb this added loss stoically.
Rather than face unpalatable choices a proactive decision to alert and influence our state representatives would be in order. On your next visit to the Otis Library pick up one of the concise and instructive advocacy fliers at our service desks. If you are a resident of one of the small municipalities that relies on Norwich, New London, Colchester or another larger community library for access to materials encourage your local officials and library advocates to make interlibrary loans a priority for state funding. It is a modest sum, but its loss has huge and devastating implications.

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