RICH JAMES: McDermott deserves credit for library stance

2013-03-10T00:00:00Z RICH JAMES: McDermott deserves credit for library stanceBy Rich James nwitimes.com
March 10, 2013 12:00 am  • 

It’s not hard to do the easy thing.

But tackling what’s tough is difficult.

Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. knows that. And that’s why he deserves credit for his latest undertaking.

Pending in the Indiana General Assembly is House Bill 1145. It would set up a legislative study committee on folding the Hammond Public Library into the Lake County Public Library system.

The idea of merging library systems isn't new. McDermott is simply the first one to act locally.

Merging library systems into one county system is one of the recommendations in the 2007 Kernan-Shepard report on how to make local government more efficient and less costly.

While the report didn’t single out Lake County, it well could have.

There are seven library systems in Lake County – six more than needed. Beside the county operation, there are library systems in Whiting, Gary, East Chicago, Hammond, Crown Point and Lowell.

Those systems employ seven executive directors and duplicate a plethora of services.

It sort of made sense long ago for a city to have its own library system. No municipality was apt to provide service for those living in another town or city.

But that was then. There is a reason why the Lake County Library system is the largest in the county. The smaller communities that make up the system knew long ago that being part of the county was the most cost-effect. Besides the main branch, the county operates libraries in Black Oak, Cedar Lake, unincorporated Calumet Township, Griffith, Highland, Munster, Schererville/Dyer, St. John and Hobart.

Lake County's population has shifted, and the money has followed. North county communities aren't as dominant or self-sufficient. They need less and can afford less.

The bill to merge the county and Hammond systems was approved in a House committee.

But Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, D-Munster, the bill’s author, said the bill won’t pass this session, but will serve instead to call for a study focused on the merger of the systems.

That probably is a good thought. The merger of all seven county systems ought to be included. Regionalism is the key to survival on many levels today.

Yet people don’t like “giving up” what they think is theirs. That’s probably especially true in Crown Point, where the Taj Mahal of libraries was just opened.

Library buildings are brick and mortar. They can be run less expensively from a central location.

Isn't it interesting that communities that are part of the Lake County system aren't complaining about not having a system of their own?

McDermott will take heat for what he is doing, although he shouldn't  He has made the tough, but difficult, decision.

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. Email him at rjames@219.com. The opinions are the writer's.

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