The Courier-News

Library system merger planned to keep services but cut costs

Monday, August 30, 2010

Faced with budget crises, the three regional systems that handle behind-the-scenes functions at libraries and media centers across the Fox Valley are planning to merge.
The plan includes combining with two other northern Illinois library systems and follows a similar move by systems in the southern half of the state.

"I think it's our only option for survival," said Jan Hayes, spokeswoman for the Wheeling-based North Suburban Library System. That system serves Kane, Cook, McHenry and Lake counties -- including the Gail Borden Public Library District in Elgin and media centers throughout school districts U46 and 300. It makes possible interlibrary loans and material-sharing programs, among other things.

After growing rapidly for the past several years, the North Suburban system was left with no operating funds due to continuing delays in payments from the state over the past 12 months.

In May, the NSLS was forced to abandon the majority of its regularly provided services and lay off its director and nearly all its staff.

Delayed payments from the state similarly have affected the Metropolitan Library System, serving Chicago and certain suburban communities in Cook, DuPage and Will counties; the Alliance System, which serves 20 west central Illinois counties; the Prairie Area Library System, serving mostly DeKalb and Kendall counties; and the DuPage Area Library System, which serves a large part of Kane and DuPage counties.

More efficiency

According to Executive Director Tom Sloan, the DuPage system has received only 57 percent of a $1 million grant it is owed by the state -- for last year. And the system has not received any money from the grant through the first quarter of this fiscal year.

The hope is that by uniting the five systems, the new system would be able to keep the core services that library users value, while operating at a fraction of the cost. There are many services that can be done better, more cheaply or more efficiently by a group, including technical support, grant application expertise and bulk purchasing, library officials say.

"In a sense, you're merging five financially strapped organizations, but overall there's an efficiency," Hayes said. "We have duplications -- five-plus buildings. Maybe we operate out of one building or a few smaller hubs. We've got separate delivery services ... . If it's combined in a large territory, maybe it can be restructured to be more efficient."

To create a new entity, each library system board has appointed representatives to a merger design team. That team, according to the DuPage system's website, will meet over the next nine months to create a proposal for the new system. Jack T. Budz, a DuPage system board member and board treasurer of the Bartlett Public Library District, is a local man on the team.

Once the team has studied the benefits and logistics of a merger, each system would need to vote to dissolve, and the plan to merge then would need to be approved by the Secretary of State Jesse White, the state librarian.

The first meeting of the merger design team is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Metropolitan system offices at 125 Tower Drive in Burr Ridge. The meeting is open to anyone wishing to attend.