DATE: April 16, 2009
Libraries Look Toward the Future
The future of cooperative services for Massachusetts libraries was the topic of a day-long planning session attended by over one hundred public, school, and academic librarians from across the state. The event, held on March 23, 2009 at the College of the Holy Cross, was part of an ongoing effort begun four years ago by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) to develop a statewide strategy that addresses critical library issues including technology, funding, regional and network services, statewide delivery, and raising awareness about the value of libraries.
“The MBLC implemented many of the recommendations received during the 2005 key issues planning sessions and continues to work on statewide initiatives, but the current economic situation has created a ‘perfect storm’ scenario for libraries,” said MBLC Director Robert C. Maier. “Many libraries have experienced double digit increases in usage and we're trying to meet that demand with state budgets that are reduced from what they were in 2001. Our goal today is to re-examine our priorities and find ways that libraries can continue to improve to meet the future needs of our residents, especially in this difficult economy.”
During the day’s planning sessions streamlining library services and making access easier for patrons were common themes as many librarians called for one statewide library card, one statewide integrated library system (ILS), and a set of core services available from all libraries statewide. “People would truly understand the benefits of having one card that enables them to use any library in the state. They’d also know what services to expect from the libraries,” said one librarian. Others were concerned that these kinds of changes would cause libraries to lose some of their local identity and uniqueness.
Consolidation of regions and networks may provide ways to continue critical core services within constrained budgets at both the state and local levels. There are currently six regional library systems which provide many services including delivery of materials between libraries, database access, continuing education, technical assistance, interlibrary loan, and reference and referral. The nine automated networks provide essential library operating functions and patron access to millions of items available by request. The regions and networks provide complementary services that support the library resource sharing that makes the Massachusetts library system so valued by users.
Focusing on service that is best for the patrons was a common theme throughout the day. Customer service and raising awareness about library services were priorities for many librarians. Attendees felt that services needed to be 24/7 whenever possible through one access point that is as easy to use as Google.
The MBLC plans to use the day’s input and discussion to shape a time line and form task groups to develop key areas.
The Board of Library Commissioners (mass.gov/mblc) is the agency of state government with the statutory authority and responsibility to organize, develop, coordinate and improve library services throughout the Commonwealth. The Board advises municipalities and library trustees on the operation and maintenance of public libraries, including construction and renovation. It administers state and federal grant programs for libraries and promotes cooperation among all types of libraries through regional library systems and automated resource sharing. It also works to ensure that all residents of the Commonwealth, regardless of their geographic location, social or economic status, age, level of physical or intellectual ability or cultural background, have access to essential new electronic information technologies and significant electronic databases.