SPRINGFIELD — Illinois Secretary of State and State Librarian Jesse White has approved the merger of five northern and central Illinois library systems, that should keep the books in Illinois’ inter-library loan program flowing into eager readers’ hands.
It was a gloomy picture for Illinois librarians in 2010.
Funding for most area library system services comes from grants approved by the Illinois General Assembly. In August 2010, the Prairie Area Library System (PALS), which serves most area libraries, had received only $1,299,805 of its $2,275,534 state allotment for the fiscal year ending June 30. In response, PALS approved a variety of budget cuts totaling $400,000, effective June 30. For librarians, the biggest impact came when PALS eliminated the technical support.
But librarians were also concerned about the possible impact to the inter-library loan program, which allows readers to go into their local library and choose from the literally millions of books and other items, no matter what actually might be on the shelves. All together, the regional systems deliver more than 30 million items annually.
In November, Linda Kurth, director of the Raymond A. Sapp Memorial Library in Wyanet, said the loss of the system would be devastating to Wyanet and other small libraries.
“We have a decent budget,” she said. “We can buy books, but inter-library loan helps me because I can’t always buy everything everybody likes.”
But the financial condition continues to improve due to the receipt of recent payments from the state. In November 2010, library systems received the full balance of Fiscal Year 2010 payments. In January 2011, systems received the first payment from the state for FY2011, which amounted to about 35 percent of the total appropriations for the fiscal year.
The combination of the resumed payments and the merger approval add up to good news for borrowers.
The merger of PALS, which includes most of Bureau County; the Alliance Library System, which includes the Buda Library; and the DuPage, Metropolitan and North Suburban library systems, should begin July 1.
The new system will be named Reaching Across Illinois Library System, and will provide library services to more than 1,500 public, private, university and school library members at more than 3,700 library locations in northern and central Illinois, and cover a 27,000 square mile area.
On Thursday, Kurth said she was pleased with the news.
“Hopefully, it will do exactly what it says,” she said. “It will keep the delivery system in place.”
But she hasn’t given up hope that it might be able to do a little bit more.
“Maybe we can have the tech support back,” she said.
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How it happened ...
On Oct. 27, 2010, the five Illinois Regional Library Systems announced their goal was to merge by July 2011, and each library system appointed three people to a Merger Design Team. One of the PALS system’s appointees was Alan Davidson of Princeton, who is both a trustee of the Princeton Public Library and PALS.
“It’s been ongoing since last September,” Davidson said Friday.
Davidson said the group has met about every other week since then, usually at the Metropolitan Library System’s facility in suburban Burr Ridge, with other meetings at remote sites including Coal Valley near Moline. Davidson said it’s been a lot of time and miles.
The challenge was great. The new system had to be operational by July 1, and their consultant told them a merger of this size usually would take from 18 to 24 months.
This group had only seven months to make it happen.
It was a rigorous process. The design team did due diligence process for all five systems, which included more than 4,000 pages of information on the systems, including debts, assets, buildings and facilities.
The new system will have three main functions, including the delivery of books and other items through the inter-library loan system; the local library automatic systems program, which is a catalog of every book in every member library; and the talking book program.
“It was a really interesting experience,” Davidson said. “Lots of fun and wonderful people.”
But the work isn’t finished yet. Davidson is now on the interim merger board as secretary. The group has hired four consultants, and now needs to take the five financial systems and create one, as well as consolidating the various human resource systems, benefits and facilities.
In addition, Davidson is one of 41 people running for 15 available seats on the RAILS Board of Trustees.
“It’s been very, very interesting to do this merger,” Davidson said. “It’s been a lot of fun ... and a way for me to give back to the community.”