Libraries and Users: Sharing the Wealth and the Responsibility

Sharing is central to what the library does – we share our collections with you. However, sharing works in several different ways at the library, many of which may not be obvious. With a big change coming in how we lend materials (which I’ll talk about later in this piece), I thought this would be a good time to discuss the concept of “sharing” in the world of the library, and the part we all play in making this a valuable service to the community.

The most obvious form of sharing is what the library does with you, the user. You come in, choose material you wish to use, and we let you borrow it. Thanks to our “share” of the annual municipal budget – less than $30 per taxpaying household, annually – we are able to develop the library’s collections, and share those materials with you.

We also do lots of sharing with other libraries. If you are a regular user of the library, you are likely familiar with Minerva, the statewide network of libraries of which we (and approximately 60 other Maine libraries of all types) are members. The Minerva network is, fundamentally, about sharing. Not only do member libraries share in the cost of running and maintaining the software system that enables us all to operate our libraries and maintain an accurate online catalog, but we also share our combined holdings of over six million items with the users of all other member libraries. This massive collection of shared materials means that residents of even the smallest communities have ready access to library collections far beyond what any single community in Maine – regardless of size – could ever have for itself. In addition, since Minerva members include not just public libraries, but also school, college, medical and other specialized libraries, the collection holdings are diverse as well as extensive.

The ‘big change’ I mentioned at the top of the column has to do with Minerva. On July 21, the Minerva network embarked on a trial period during which libraries will allow DVDs to circulate for the same three-week loan period as books. This is a change that some libraries had already undertaken – with tremendous success – on an individual basis, and one that we have been advocating for system-wide for a while. We feel this will be a big plus for our users, given that a large amount of our DVD circulation is in television series. These multi-disc DVD sets represent a huge time commitment and we hear, time and again, how difficult the one-week checkout period is for these items. Having a three-week checkout period will give you a little more time to watch a season of Game of Thrones!

A few Minerva libraries have expressed concern over this change, fearing that longer checkout periods will result in longer waits for materials. Given that the Minerva holds system automatically allocates priority on holds to users of the library that owns the item (in other words, a South Portland user will be given top priority for an item owned by South Portland, even if a user from elsewhere in the state requests it first), we do not feel this will be an issue for our users. In addition, we have a system in place where we purchase additional copies of items to better meet local demand. While being a member of Minerva gives our users access to materials system wide, we feel it is in the best interest of our users that our collection reflects our local – high volume – use of materials.

Of course, the thought that longer checkouts will lead to longer waits assumes that just because a DVD can be kept for three weeks, it will be. I do not feel that this will be a problem. We do not see this behavior with books, and I do not think we will see it with DVDs. I think that our users will be conscientious of the fact that the materials they are using are also wanted by other users, and that materials will be returned when users are done with them and not kept out longer simply because they can be kept out.

This brings me to the final aspect of sharing that I wanted to touch on here, and that is the sharing that the library’s users do with one another. When we acquire an item for the library’s collection, we do so because we know there will be a demand for the item. When you have an item out, there is likely someone else waiting behind you that would like to borrow it. Just as you want to borrow library materials that are clean, current and usable, so does the next person who will use the material you have, and the person after them. Mindfulness of the ongoing life of the library’s materials is important and, as we embark on this trial of unifying circulation terms for our items, we hope all of our users will keep this aspect of sharing in mind.

So, both the library and our users play an important role in keeping our shared collections serving as many people as possible. We invest in and care for the materials and hope that our users not only find our collections useful, but also feel a sense of pride in them. Working together, we can ensure that that our collections can serve as many users as possible, making the most of the investment of your tax dollars. As always, I welcome your feedback on library services and, in particular, your experiences with this change in circulation policy.


This post was originally published as a Library Links column in the South Portland-Cape Elizabeth Sentry on August 1, 2014

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