EDITORIAL: Study library mergers at county level

2013-02-26T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: Study library mergers at county level nwitimes.com
February 26, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. has been pushing for a merger between the Hammond Public Library and the Lake County Public Library system. While we're not saying no, it's a complicated issue that merits a thorough examination.

State Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, is asking for a legislative study committee to examine library mergers statewide this summer.

That's the right approach to this complicated issue.

Under legislation sponsored by Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, D-Munster, the Lake County Public Library would have taken on all the property, employees, contracts and debt of the Hammond Public Library as of Jan. 1, 2014. Neither library director and neither library board would have any say on the matter.

McDermott said the merger could save Hammond residents $1 million a year. Or would it?

The mayor was right to jettison the city's health department and let the county health department take over those responsibilities. In that instance, Hammond taxpayers were paying for both departments. That's not the case with the two libraries.

A merger would be complicated. Hammond Public Library workers have union representation; Lake County Public Library workers don't. Hammond's library also has a lot of debt. If the two systems merged, who should be responsible for paying off the existing debt in Hammond.

And would Hammond keep its existing library? Lake County Public Library -- which serves 13 communities, not the entire county except Hammond -- already has a central library. Why maintain two?

There are other issues to consider, including that library contracts for materials are typically based on the size of the population served, so unit costs could increase when mergers occur.

It's right to send this issue to a legislative study committee. Look at the big picture for not just this one case, but for consolidation of libraries all across the state.

Some parts of Indiana aren't even part of a library district. That was one of the findings of the Kernan-Shepard commission, which recommended consolidation of libraries at the county level.

Look at the cost savings to be had through countywide consolidation vs. local control, along with other issues, and thoroughly vet this. 

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