Magazine article Information Today

A Unique International Experience

Magazine article Information Today

A Unique International Experience

Article excerpt

"Anything to declare?" is a question that's familiar to international travelers the world over. But how would you feel about routinely crossing an international border in your daily life, even for the simple act of going to the library and borrowing some books? This is exactly what residents of Derby Line, Vt., and Rock Island, Quebec, must do when they visit the Haskell Library, which serves both communities.

Straddling the U.S.-Canada border, the library is surely one of the most unusual in the world. The international boundary passes directly through the building. It is designated by a black line on the floor, goes through the reading room, and separates the book stacks and circulation desk in Canada from the library offices and main entrance in the U.S.

The library is housed in a beautiful historical building, which it shares with the Haskell Opera House. (Plays are presented in Canada, and audiences sit in the U.S.) The building was recently restored and brought up to modern building-code standards with the installation of fire escapes, access for the disabled, etc., at a cost of more than $800,000.

The renovation proved to be a bureaucratic nightmare, which considerably inflated its cost. It had to comply not only with the regulations of two local jurisdictions and two historical preservation commissions, but also the customs laws of both countries. In one amusing incident, an elevator was purchased from a Canadian company for installation in the U.S. part of the building, but the steelworkers from both countries would not cross the border. When administrators found out that a customs duty might be imposed, a creative solution was devised. A large crane parked on the Canadian side was used to hoist the elevator across to the U.S. side and place it through a hole in the roof.

The library serves residents of both Derby Line and Rock Island by providing Internet access and the usual circulation services. It doesn't have an online catalog--something of an anachronism these days. But according to assistant librarian Nancy Rumery, the only users who have difficulty with the old-fashioned cards are children, who don't know how to use them. The 30,000-book collection has a sizable number of French-language titles, which is not surprising given the library's placement in Quebec.

Most of the library's $150,000 annual budget comes from a private endowment set up by the Haskell family (who also provided the building) in 1910. This helps avoid any of the problems that would ensue because of the international boundary. …

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