EDITORIAL: Study on library services needed

2013-06-20T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: Study on library services needed nwitimes.com
June 20, 2013 12:00 am  • 

The examination of long-term debt at Northwest Indiana libraries has brought to light some interesting developments and a reminder of what could be.

Porter County Public Library System's policy of not building a new branch until it has the funds to operate the new building is admirable. It is not the only local government entity to espouse this philosophy, but rare enough that it merits special praise.

Times reporter Bill Dolan's story Sunday on library debt is timely, because these have been volatile times for some public libraries in Northwest Indiana.

Hammond Public Library closed two branches in 2011 because of financial constraints and has tussled with the City Council over funding since then. Gary Public Library officials have also struggled with tight funding and the consequential need to cut expenses drastically.

At the same time, Crown Point Public Library built a new structure, and the Lake County Public Library has been constructing new branches as well.

It is time for a statewide look at how public libraries operate, how they are funded and what future demands will be placed on libraries.

The need to develop library resources for a new era, in which computer access for the have-nots is considered as valuable as books, and in which the rapid expansion of technology and Internet access are reshaping access to information, should prompt a thorough review of library operations in each county.

In 2007, the bipartisan Kernan-Shepard Report from the Indiana Commission on Local Government Reform noted some 395,000 Hoosiers in 38 counties -- none of them in Northwest Indiana -- were not in a library district.

Indiana has excellent libraries, and access to library materials and services should be readily available to all Hoosiers.

The commission recommended consolidating libraries at the county level -- not closing existing branches, but merging operations to ensure wide access to services while reducing administrative costs.

Consolidation is nearly complete in Porter County, with Westchester Public Library the lone holdout not a part of the Porter County Public Library System. That's not the case in Lake County, not surprisingly, with several separate library districts.

As Indiana nears its bicentennial in 2016, this is a good time to examine whether consolidation is warranted and how library resources are distributed within each county. We're talking not just about the location of branches, but also about what materials are needed and how they should be made accessible to the public.

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