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Jun. 16, 2019 | Sunday
Local News
Libraries solve book sharing problem, for now
Niagara-on-the-Lake Public Library. (Kevin MacLean/Niagara Now)

The region’s libraries have come up with a made-in-Niagara solution to the suspended interlibrary book loan program.

The six libraries that form the Libraries in Niagara Co-operative will be using staff vehicles and covering costs from their operating budgets to move books around the region to meet the needs of patrons.

The co-operative, known as LiNC, opted for the “simplest, cheapest, temporary plan” after Ontario government funding cuts led to the suspension of two provincewide interlibrary lending programs last month.

Niagara-on-the-Lake Public Library CEO Cathy Simpson said the Fonthill branch of the Pelham library system will act as a central depository for books and materials.

Once a week, each participating library – NOTL, Lincoln, Pelham, Fort Erie, Thorold and Niagara College – will arrange a pickup in Fonthill. The old system, under the Southern Ontario Library Service, known as SOLS, had three pickups weekly, so library patrons might wait a bit longer for that item they really need.

“It won’t be quite as fast as under SOLS, but I imagine it will take a week, no more than two weeks” for people to have their requests filled, Simpson said. Once the program is fully up and rolling, she expects a weekly turnaround will be the norm.

The Niagara libraries shared far more materials via LiNC than by SOLS over the past few years. For instance, in the first three months of 2019, NOTL library users borrowed an average of 762 items each month through LiNC and 45 items each month from libraries outside Niagara Region, library statistics show. Those deliveries were made using the now-suspended SOLS van service.

Simpson said the new sharing system will be in effect at least until the end of the year. The rather utilitarian approach will see on-duty library staffers travel to Fonthill and be reimbursed mileage for their efforts. The NOTL branch’s first pickup was Tuesday.

Fonthill was chosen because geographically it is somewhat central, Simpson noted, and it has space for the multiple “bins and bags full of books” that will be sent to the depository.

Not all the staff trips will be on “company time,” however.

“People have been really co-operative,” Simpson said. “For instance, one of our staff, her kids play basketball in Fonthill, so she has to go there anyway” and will make a pickup. “We had a staff member from Niagara College who lives in Fonthill and he offered to help out, so we’re trying to take advantage of anything like that to keep costs down.”

The LiNC librarians explored a number of options, including the Canada Post/courier solution suggested by Culture Minister Michael Tibollo last month. No options have been ruled out long term, Simpson said.

However, there remains a lot of uncertainty for libraries, and not just because of budget cuts. With the province’s ongoing review of regional government, “We soon could all be one big happy city in Niagara, so we didn’t want to put something in place with a private courier and then have it all change if we have a brand new municipality.”

Since the libraries suspended the LiNC program in late April, “We’ve really appreciated the support we received from the public. They’ve really been keeping up the pressure and keeping this in the news.” 

Library patrons were “very happy” to hear they can again start reserving books from other locations, she said. “We relied heavily on it and (when the program was suspended) it left quite a gap in service.”

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