2013-11-29 / Community

Library Links

Minerva: sharing resources for the benefit of all
By Kevin Davis

In the first Library Links column that Rachel and I wrote for the Sentry, we mentioned the Minerva network of libraries as an example of the collaboration that frequently occurs between Maine’s libraries. Minerva is such a large group – and adds so much value to library services statewide – that I thought it would make a worthy subject for a column on its own.

Minerva is a statewide consortium of libraries of all types. While both South Portland Public Library and Thomas Memorial Library are examples of the most represented type of library in Minerva – public libraries – Minerva is made even richer by including other kinds of libraries and their more specialized collections. Our partners in Minerva include Maine’s community college system, Unity College and Kaplan University as well as several K-12 school libraries. We also have a few hospitalbased health sciences libraries in the network. Combined, the collections across Minerva provide our users access to more than 6 million items.

South Portland Public Library is proud to be among the first members of the Minerva group, having joined the consortium back in the year 2000. While most of our users who are aware of Minerva think of it simply as a means to get interlibrary loans, that function is far greater now than it was in the early days. While always envisioned as a means for sharing resources between libraries, early on, lending between libraries was very limited. Libraries did not want to lend out their newer items or audio and video materials to other libraries, so lending was limited to books only and, of those, only older titles that were not in very high demand.

Minerva took the plunge into what we refer to as “open lending” about eight years ago. Lifting the restrictions on what could be requested through the system sparked an explosion of growth in lending traffic statewide and fundamentally shifted both how Minerva libraries operate, as well as how our users interact with us. What used to be months-long wait lists at the library where our local users would have to wait for one of our one or two copies of a popular book to become available has given way to the broader collection of the Minerva network, where there may be more than 100 copies of a title available, system wide, zipping back and forth across the state, from library to library, efficiently filling holes in the order in which they were placed.

And when I say Minerva has changed the way we do business, that is not a statement made lightly. Daily, South Portland Public Library handles hundreds of items coming and going, to and from, other libraries for our patrons – and theirs – to use when something is not available locally. Between July 2012 and June 2013, South Portland Public Library borrowed 21,677 items from other libraries, representing approximately 10 percent of our annual checkouts. On the lending side, we sent out 22,359 items to other libraries. The system does a pretty good job in maintaining fairness across the network – how much a library lends out is determined not by the size of the library’s collections, but by how much that library requests, for their users, from other libraries.

The volume of interlibrary loan traffic has certainly changed our workflow. Handling the materials we receive and send out is a responsibility shared by several members of our staff. If it were made into a single job, though, it would be a more than full-time position, and one that didn’t even exist just 10 years ago. Each morning, staff pounces upon our daily delivery of four to eight 40-plus pound boxes filled with materials sent to us from other libraries. The materials are unpacked and sorted, some going to patrons who then need to be notified that their book has arrived, some simply our own books, DVDs or CDs being returned to us, needing to be returned to our shelves. Later in the day, library staff gathers requested materials from our shelves and processes and packs them to be shipped out the next morning.

The development of Minerva is a great example of not just collaboration between libraries, but also of the library world in Maine being responsive and, in many ways proactive, to meet the changing needs of our users. Our investment in what was, at the time, primarily a technology infrastructure back in 2000 has led now to a broad and efficient network of libraries, providing ready access to materials for users of all types of libraries in all types of communities, across the state.

So, when you startle awake at 3 a.m., suddenly having just remembered the title of that book your coworker mentioned that you would really like to read, or the movie that was just released on DVD that you never got around to seeing at the theater, you can go to your computer (or pick up your smartphone or tablet) and know that Minerva is just a click away and, in most cases, we’ll have your item sitting at our desk, waiting for you, within just a few days.

Kevin M. Davis is director of South Portland Public Library.

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