2017-08-11 / Community

Patrons can check out at other libraries under plan

By Michael Kelley
Staff Writer

Through a recent agreement between five area libraries, whether looking for a new non-fiction book at Thomas Memorial Library in Cape Elizabeth, a murder mystery from Baxter Memorial Library in Gorham, a science fiction book at Scarborough Public Library, a children’s picture book from South Portland Public Library or a young adult novel at Walker Memorial Library in Westbrook, a library patron can get the book they are looking for with one single library card, no matter which community they live in.

The shared borrowing program, which began July 1, is an offshoot of an agreement that Scarborough and South Portland libraries had with Cape Elizabeth during the time Thomas Memorial Library was being renovated between 2015 and 2016.

“Once the renovation was over, we wanted to see if this was something we could continue because it was something that was really popular and people really enjoyed,” said Kyle Neugebauer, director of Thomas Memorial Library.

Nancy Crowell, director of the Scarborough Public Library, said the temporary agreement worked well for Scarborough and she was eager to see if it could be turned into a more permanent agreement.

From there she reached out to neighboring communities to see if they wanted to form a more permanent library card acceptance program and drafted a memorandum of understanding.

“Since we are all on the same Minerva system, it is simple for us to accept each others cards,” Crowell said.

Minerva, according to its website, is a “shared library system that brings together nearly 60 libraries of all types from across the state” and “provides the structure, systems, and support for member libraries to enhance services to library patrons through collaboration.”

A shared library card system is something South Portland Public Library Director Kevin Davis has long sought.

“This, I’ll call it a shared card system, is something I have been advocating for for many, many years,” he said. “It is something we should be doing. It exists in other states, but doesn’t here in Maine.”

Neuegbauer said it didn’t take any changes on the technical side, but only needed the approval of each of the community’s library boards, and in some cases, town councils.

“Since we all belong to Minerva, we’ve always had the ability to accept other cards. It’s only the local policy that had prohibited it from happening,” Davis said.

Through the arrangement, a patron does not need to return a book, or other library material to the library it belongs to as long as it is returned before it is due to any of the five participating libraries. Late charges will be assessed in accordance to the policy of the library where the individual lives.

“I think it is going to be very successful,” Crowell said. “We have had a positive response so far.”

The five libraries have long offered interlibrary loans, in which someone can request a book at one library be send to another library and while that service will still be offered, Crowell said this new arrangement cuts down time and costs and is a “better use of everybody’s resources” while still making a library collection available to nearby residents.

“Patrons have to request a book from a library and someone from that library has to pull it off the shelves, pack it up and send it out through a courier service. Our staff has to process it and the patron has to pick it up,” Scarborough Public Library Circulation Manager Mike Windsor said, explaining the interlibrary loan system. “This cuts out all those steps and now they can go directly to one of those libraries and pick up the materials.”

The new agreement between the five communities may also save some money. Davis said because libraries may circulate fewer books through interlibrary loan, meaning the libraries will have to pay less for the courier service, which charges libraries based on how many times it stops at the library each week.

Windsor said he expects library patrons to continue to use the interlibrary loan system as well.

“I don’t think this will stop us from sending (books) out through the courier service,” he said.

Davis said by allowing patrons to pick up books they desire in person, it expedites the process for them.

“Our patrons, and patrons across the state love the interlibrary loan system because we can have a book from anywhere in the state within just a few days, but occasionally a book someone is looking for is checked out, but there is a copy of it available in, say Scarborough, but it will be a few days,” Davis said. “It’s hard for us to tell people that. It doesn’t make any sense.”

Now in that situation, a patron can make the short drive to Scarborough to get the book according to their schedule.

Windsor sees the shared card system as particularly attractive to individuals who may live in one of the communities, but work in another. Neugebauer said because library hours differ – South Portland Public Library, Thomas Memorial Library, Baxter Memorial Library and Walker Memorial Library are all closed on Sundays, but the Scarborough Public Library (except for July and August) and South Portland’s Memorial Branch Library are open – patrons may find it easier to go to one library over another.

Where a patron lives may also be a factor.

“Because our libraries are geographically in close proximity, someone may live in Scarborough by mileage wise or time wise may be closer to South Portland or even Gorham, Westbrook or Cape Elizabeth,” Neugebauer said.

Windsor said as more people hear about the interlibrary agreement, he feels more people will utilized the shared-card privilege.

“As people learn about it, I expect it to pick up a little bit. We are going to track to numbers,” he said.

Such an approach is almost unheard of in this state. Windsor said the only other similar arrangement he knows of is between Lewiston Public Library and Auburn Library in which residents from one city can get a library card to the other city’s library. He hopes other libraries will take note of the Cape Elizabeth/ Gorham/Scarborough/Saco/Westbrook agreement.

“I hope this serves as a model of extending this service to all Minerva libraries. Some day it would be great to have a state library card, but at the very least, I hope this shows to other Minerva libraries this is possible,” he said.

Neugebauer and Davis hope Windsor is right.

“There is a lot more consortium borrowing in other state. People who move here ask about it,” Neugebauer said. “It’s a nice model for giving choice and broader access to the patron.”

“The hope is it will catch on with other Minerva libraries. It’s a no brainer,” Davis said.

Davis said the libraries will address issues as they come up and have vowed to formally review how the program has been working in a year.

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at news@scarbroughleader.com.

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