Issue: Library Consolidation in Indiana

One of the constant threats that small libraries have to contest with is threat of closure. In Vermont where I live many small libraries just barely stay open because people in the town advocate for them and the decision ultimately rests with the town. If they want to pay for it, they get to keep it. In Indiana there is a movement afoot to consolidate the state’s libraries to, I believe, one per county. It’s at the initial stages, a plan by the governor, at this point. Small libraries are discussion the issue wiht their boards, and other libraries. The plan would cut the total number of libraries from 238 to 92 via consolidation. This would, apparently save property tax money and “streamline” government somewhat. We’re talking about a state that has advertisements on its government site search. The Indiana State Library website doens’t have any immediately available information on this topic that I could find through basic searching.

It’s pretty clear that this would mostly shift library costs to the patron (travel, re-learning systems, fees?) and staff (lost jobs, retraining, commuting) and away from the funding bodies. So, sure there is money to be saved but would a reorganization scheme actually work? I find the concept chilling but I haven’t really started reading about it yet. For people who are interested in this issue, I suggest the Save Our Small Public Libraries blog and the INpublb archives (view by thread to find consoludation discussions) [ttw]

9 thoughts on “Issue: Library Consolidation in Indiana

  1. While I would indeed fear being a small library being absorbed by a large system, consolidation could make sense in rural areas where a county may have multiple underfunded libraries. Multiple county systems should also be allowed in these areas (allowed as opposed to mandated).

    Where consolidation does not take place, state law and services should be created to make regional collaboration more appealing and doable. For example, larger health care pools and jointly-hired staff could help.

    Some services exist– such as shared catalog/ILS service and a joint Overdrive audio downloads system– but this only goes so far in keeping actual costs down.

  2. Consolidation doesn’t work. It creates efficiencies, but it reduces service and value. It is what some would refer to as hamburger management. Always look to save the bottom dollar regardless of the realy value that is there.

  3. So much depends on the attitudes at the time of consolidation.

    A full-fledged tax revolt could indeed lead to the slash/burn consolidations complete with “hamburger management” and communities loosing their libraries.

    However, if done right, a broader tax base could insulate both the library and individual property owners from tax shocks and leave some extra funds to improve the libraries. Sometimes there are strength in numbers.

  4. The big problem with consolidation in my eyes is that studies I’ve seen and my own experience have shown that the farther away from a public library a household is, the less likely it is to use that public library. Hence if you consolidate, you save money (or shift the burden at least) but you also put more people farther away from the library with the result that fewer people overall use it. (See Households’ Use of Public and Other Types of Libraries: 2002 at as one source for my claim.)

    So, fantastic… You’ve saved money but accomplished much less in terms of service. Is that really the goal?

  5. Which is not to say that libraries should never consolidate, but one library per county? Holy cow. Those had better be the smallest counties I’ve ever seen. My patrons are horrified at the idea of a 15-minute drive to the next closest library to get that book their kid needs for the report due tomorrow, much less driving halfway across the county.

  6. Despite the claims of the small libraries in Indiana, there is no plan. Yet. There is merely a charge by the Governor (Not My Man) to his Local Government Reform Commission to consider efficiencies that may be gained by consolidating schools, libraries, and townships. We have no idea what kind of proposals will come in that Commission’s report, due out before the end of the year.

    Meanwhile the small libraries in the state are causing aggravation among our legislator as they urge their locals to contact their legislator to oppose something that doesn’t exist.

    If there is consolidation it doesn’t mean ONE LIBRARY per county, it means ONE LIBRARY SYSTEM per county.

  7. The comments made by C.J. are quite correct. Nothing has happened yet and, yes indeed, Indiana’s small public libraries are up in arms over this issue and are making contact with legislators to voice their opinions. And they are doing so with good reason. This is not the first time that library consolidation has been discussed in Indiana—over the last four years there seems to have been a “push” by one or both of the political parties to force that issue. Now our governor is bringing the issue out into the open by lumping public libraries in with school consolidation savings—and this is a state where public library budgets average only 3.3% of the entire state-wide property tax bill while school districts account for 35% or more. What the Indiana governor has not considered is what the costs and benefits would be and we are VERY concerned that his “Blue Ribbon” commission will not make any cost/benefit analysis in their report. So, yes, small public libraries are making their voices heard early and often and will continue to do so as long as the politicians want to make political capital from this issue. After all, just because we do not get paid very much doesn’t mean that we are as stupid as the politicians wish we were.

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