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04/04/2017 03:45 PM

Love Your More-Than-Local Library? Write a Letter to Keep it That Way

Imagine being limited to only the materials available in the town’s local library when looking for a new read, a popular film, or research texts. Thanks to borrowIT CT, formerly known as Connecticard, 192 participating libraries in the state currently honor the local library cards of any Connecticut library, and send materials to libraries through a special delivery program if patrons cannot or do not want to travel to the library that has the materials they want.

That program is in danger of losing its funding in Governor Dannel Malloy’s proposed budget; in response, Chester Public Library is spearheading a letter writing campaign, encouraging not only residents of Chester, but across the region, to write to their local representatives and ask that the state library budget not be cut.

To make it easier for the community to get involved and advocate, the Chester Public Library has information packets at the front desk that include the contact information and mailing addresses of State Representative Robert Siegrist (R-36) and State Senator Art Linares, Jr. (R-33). The packets also contain a summary of how the funding cut will affect residents directly, and talking points for people to reference in letters or other communications to local representatives. For example, in 2016, 3,891,944 items, or approximately $58.4 million worth of materials, were loaned across the state through the cooperative program.

Chester Assistant Librarian Pam Larson has seen the program grow and change in the 20 years she has worked for the library.

“At first, it wasn’t really used,” said Larson. “Once it went online, and people could request items themselves, it was more utilized. It’s better for our patrons—we’re a small library, and can’t afford to buy all of the books that are requested.”

She hopes people will write letters to show the legislature that libraries are still widely used by the public, and are important parts of the community that actively bring people together. However, she did also note that she’s not sure that people in the community necessarily realize how the borrowIT CT directly impacts their library use.

According to Essex Public Library Director Richard Conroy, the reciprocal lending program began approximately 40 years ago, when the state authorized legislation that set aside grant money that would allow towns to honor different towns’ library cards. Because of this legislation, residents can use and borrow the resources acquired and held by other towns. Each library tracks reciprocal lending, submits a report to the state, and receives a check at the end of the year, an incentive to participate in reciprocal lending.

The program also provides the basis for the state’s access to federal funds that pay for the delivery program that sends materials between libraries; these are not mailed through the postal service. To receive the federal funds, the state has to demonstrate maintenance of effort, and show that there are services being provided to residents across the state.

If the governor’s budget stands as proposed with the borrowIT CT program defunded, patrons would not be able to have materials transferred between libraries for use. Additionally, should patrons visit other libraries outside of their town, other libraries would not be obligated to honor out-of-town cards, and would be able to make those decisions on a case-by-case basis. According to Conroy, it’s also possible that the state will choose to do away with the legislation that allowed for statewide reciprocal borrowing. If that happens, the state wouldn’t be able to decide to fund reciprocal borrowing programs in the future, but would have to draft completely new legislation.

While the Libraries Online Incorporated (LION) consortium—a resource sharing partnership between 30 libraries in the state—would not be affected by cutting borrowIT CT, the access to resources for patrons would be greatly reduced. Only patrons who are members of a LION library can access or borrow the materials held at other LION libraries. The Essex and Ivoryton libraries are members, however, the Deep River and Chester libraries are not.

“I’ve certainly benefitted from [borrowIT CT], getting books and movies, looking for titles in the network,” said Mike Augusta of Deep River. “It makes your library bigger. These are small towns, it’s not like you have a big university here with its library.”

Augusta said that he would be willing to write a letter, but hadn’t been aware that the funding was cut from the proposed budget. He also noted that the loss of the program would likely affect smaller towns more, as they would be most helped by having access to a larger network of resources.

“I’m sure some people say you can get everything on the Internet,” continued Augusta, “but I know for a fact that this book I’m looking for now is not online.”

To those who are concerned about reduced access to resources due to the loss of funding for borrowIT CT, Conroy stresses that they should reach out to local legislators.

“Emails are okay, calls are better, but letters are best,” said Conroy. “Email and voicemail can easily be deleted; handwritten letters are a lot harder to ignore.”

To pick up an information packet, visit Chester Public Library on Monday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Tuesday from 2 to 6 p.m., Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday from 2 to 8 p.m., Friday 1 from 0 a.m. to 6 p.m., or Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.