Lake County residents can now walk into any public library system in the county and not be treated as a stranger when borrowing books.
Library directors in Crown Point, East Chicago, Gary, Hammond, Lowell and Whiting and directors at the Lake County Public Library agreed to drop their system of denying open access to residents outside their home districts by requiring reimbursement when one system's patron borrowed a book from another.
Larry Acheff, director of the Lake County Public Library System, said Monday a significant number of Crown Point residents already have been crossing over to take advantage of his system's extensive holdings.
"This is really a big help," said Margaret Evans, director of the Hammond Public Library. The new policy likely will save her budget $25,000 previously paid other library systems because its residents drew so heavily on the others' book stacks, she said.
Acheff said the seven library systems used to honor the book requests of others' patrons until the 1980s.
"The state came in and picked up the tab for a few years; then the money ran out and it took us a while to reinstate the local agreement, and it was never quite as broad after that."
Lynn Frank, director of the Crown Point Community Library, said the systems are compelled to cooperate to hold off efforts by Gov. Mitch Daniels to consolidate their districts and by revenue shortages caused by more than $5 million in state-mandated property tax cuts falling most heavily on Gary, East Chicago, Hammond and Whiting.
Sandy Morgan, Lowell Public Library's director, said her library officials have put aside concerns that smaller systems, like hers, could lose readership to the larger. "We came together as a group and talked about how we can help and work together," Morgan said,
Acheff said he expects the open door policy will cost his system the most, "but we are willing to absorb it." He said the property tax cuts fall less heavily on his tax base, which includes most of the county's more wealthy suburbs.
Acheff said the new policy's timing is fortuitous, "because in lean economic times, libraries are always used more heavily. People are coming in all the time to file workman's compensation claims over our Internet. Circulation is way up. People are doing more 'staycation' things, and libraries fit into that," he said.
Evans hopes the cooperative venture can be expanded to the borrowing of DVDs and other educational media.