Magazine article American Libraries

Growing PINES in Georgia

Magazine article American Libraries

Growing PINES in Georgia

Article excerpt

HOW A MIGHTY MODEL OF PUBLIC LIBRARY COOPERATION FROM A TINY ACORN GREW

Public librarians can be such profound hypocrites. We may talk the talk but often do not walk the walk. We evangelically spread the gospel of "information to the people," but when some of those information-seekers confess that they live outside the "recognized" legal service area--and want to borrow library materials--we demand a tariff. In other words, the nonresident public is welcome to take a peek, but cannot take anything home.

We justify this discriminatory policy by adhering to the tradition that the primary source for financial support defines the constituency. On the other hand, we gladly take federal and (sometimes) state funds and use them to provide public library service. For those federal and state taxpayers, however, access is restricted. For them there is no quid pro quo. Yet public librarians can sleep at night, by proclaiming: "Let them use interlibrary loan."

The acorn is planted

A few years ago, a nonlibrarian--a state bureaucrat, actually--asked several library system administrators why every Georgian could not use the very same library card at each and every public library in the state. In other words, when can statewide service begin? After all, the Georgia legislature provides millions of dollars in direct support to public libraries. Couldn't public libraries have one statewide catalog on the Internet? Library administrators answered with candor and directness: "It just isn't done!" "It can't be done!"

I was one of those library system administrators. In fact, I became (I am not sure exactly how) chair of the committee that explored this impossible project. I was especially vocal in predicting that the committee would never accept a centralized server--that is, assuming that the above-mentioned "impossible" became possible by some miracle. My fellow committee members expressed similar reservations.

Our library systems are like fiefdoms. We don't give up our authority and/or independence easily or gladly. After all, we would be expected to change our policies to achieve consensus. Compromise? Never! It can't be done!

A sapling takes root

Well, we have created a statewide library card, PINES (Public Information Network for Electronic Services). And if you don't mind, I prefer my crow to be served with a spicy sauce please, and a side of humble pie.

How did we accomplish such a thing? The answer is simple: The price was right. At the same meeting in which the bureaucrat asked the shocking questions, he also asked library administrators, "What will it take to get you people to cooperate?" We librarians were on the spot. We had no place to hide. So we sketched out their price. "A circulation system funded by the state--hardware and software--with lifetime maintenance" was the first voiced reply. "Okay," said the bureaucrat. And the deal was made.

The forest before the trees

It was 1998 and the state had funds for Y2K compliance. Libraries with circulation systems that were not Y2K-compliant would be eligible. It was decided, albeit reluctantly, that the most efficient method, in terms of time, cost, and service, would be to have one centralized system with all policies (generally) agreed upon. One card would work at each of the facilities, and out-of-residency policies would be cast into the past and forgotten forever.

Twenty-six systems (out of 57) had automation software that was not Y2K-compliant. The real chiller to the proposed project, however, was that Phase I had to go to bid, be awarded, and be online in 18 months. This included the creation of a unified database of patrons and MARC records for the 26 systems. Future phases would have to be funded separately. Perhaps most harrowing of all was that multiple committees of librarians had to reach a consensus and resolve all unified-policy issues.

As a result, most public libraries in Georgia are discarding their out-of-residency fees. …

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