EDITORIAL: Push for library district consolidation

2012-01-08T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: Push for library district consolidation nwitimes.com
January 08, 2012 12:00 am

A number of Gary residents are concerned about plans to turn Gary's main library into a cultural center. It's not as good as a library that circulates materials, but at least resources still would be available for public inspection while at the cultural center.

That doesn't seem to be consolation for the protesters, who want the main library to remain the main library, circulating books and other materials just like the branches do.

They aren't happy the Gary Public Library Board voted last month to remodel the building as the South Shore Museum & Cultural Center, rather than just abandon the building as planned earlier last year. Saving the building under this plan will cost about $2 million.

Linda Peterson, of Gary, questioned during a protest Monday at the site what would happen to the people who formerly used the main library, including "the unemployed who use the computers to write resumes and the children who are given assignments to do on the computer. The people who congregate here to encourage one another. The working poor, ordinary people."

Some three dozen people participated in that protest. Their anguish is understandable.

Where the protesters should focus their energies, though, is on pushing for public libraries to consolidate on a countywide basis so services could be provided more efficiently and at less cost throughout the entire county.

The Kernan-Shepard report issued in 2007 urged the establishment of countywide public library systems for maximum efficiency. Lake County has seven public library systems; Porter County has two.

Consolidation would help areas in Indiana that currently aren't served by a public library. It also would help in planning the distribution of facilities and services.

That means decisions such as whether to shut down library buildings and where to expand services could take into account what's offered in adjacent areas, not just the bottom line in an isolated community.

It is sad to see libraries close — not just in Gary, but also in Hammond and elsewhere — but even worse to see this happen without serious attention to a solution that would address the distribution of services as well as financial considerations.

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