If ever there were a sign that public libraries are in trouble, it is the decision in both Hammond and Gary to close library branches to save money.
The Gary Library Board closed the Tolleston branch last November. On March 28, the board voted to permanently close Tolleston and the main branch, in downtown Gary, effective Jan. 1, 2012.
Now the Hammond Public Library is planning to close its two remaining branches, E.B. Hayward and Howard, effective Nov. 1. The main library will remain open.
The library boards cited property tax caps, a frozen tax levy and low collection rates as reasons for the closings.
These closings are in communities that need library services the most.
Libraries are not just places to borrow books, but also places to access the Internet, write resumes and hunt for jobs, and connect with others in the community. It is especially important for young people and others without their own motorized transportation to be able to access library services easily.
And now four options for those important services are being taken away.
It's time once more to discuss forming a single countywide library system, reducing overhead and planning library services more efficiently.
Anyone can see that a countywide consolidation would not happen in time to save these four libraries from their demise, nor would having a single countywide library director, instead of the seven that now exist, save enough money to keep even one of these libraries open even if there were time to do so.
But consolidation would have the benefit of planning more efficiently for better distribution of library services throughout the county, not just by brick-and-mortar branches but also, perhaps, by bookmobiles able to deliver services on a rotating basis to areas not served by the remaining buildings.
The Kernan-Shepard Commission recommended consolidating on a countywide basis to make sure the entire county is adequately served -- something that, unbelievably, doesn't already happen throughout Indiana. That report spurred increased cooperation by Lake County's library directors but not full-fledged merger talks.
It is time to revisit that report and begin the lengthy negotiations on a consolidation plan that could better serve not just Gary and Hammond but all of Lake County.