Friday, November 27, 2009

Collaboration in the Air with Libraries in the Berwicks

By Jim Kanak
Staff Columnist
In the face of shrinking resources and a desire to maximize library services for their constituents, Librarians Sandy Broomfield (Berwick), Mamie Ney (South Berwick) and Beth Sweet (D.A. Hurd, North Berwick) took an historic step recently. They agreed formally to a reciprocal arrangement that allows legal residents of each of the three towns to sign up for free library cards at all three libraries.
“We have been collaborating, but not formally,” said Ney.
“We decided the three of us could have patrons from each town share the library,” said Broomfield.
It wasn’t a simple matter, however. To complete the agreement, the librarians had to get their boards (in the case of Berwick and D.A. Hurd) and town officials (in the case of South Berwick) to go along with the idea. The different organizational structures of the three facilities complicated things. Only the South Berwick library is a town department; Berwick and Hurd are non-profits directed by boards of directors.
They convinced folks that collaboration was a good thing.
“For example, it saves us from inter-library loan costs,” Sweet said. “Usually, books are mailed between libraries and $2.45 is the average mailing fee. So giving people cards helps with that. We’re also all small libraries, so jointly hosting events can draw larger audiences.”
In fact, joint events are already on the drawing board, thanks to a grant the group got from the Maine Humanities Council to support the formation of a book discussion group.
“The grant will provide a facilitator to run five book discussions,” Sweet said. “It will also provide the books to lend.”
“The Council was looking for libraries to work together, so that worked in our favor,” said Ney.
“The hope is that we’ll alternate the discussions among all three libraries, so people will get familiar with (ones outside their towns),” Sweet said.
The discussion groups will likely begin in March. But that’s not the only shared activity. Museum passes is another area of collaboration.
“We got a $2,500 grant from Kennebunk Savings Bank for all three to get museum passes, to places like the Maine Children’s Museum, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Portland Museum of Art, Strawbery Banke and Willowbrook,” Broomfield said.
The trio continues to explore other possibilities. “There are so many ways to cooperate, like ordering supplies together (to get better prices),” Ney said. “There’s a lot we can do internally and externally. It also gives us a good excuse to get together, to see how we’re dealing with similar things.”
Sweet agreed. “We could do staff training together and fundraising,” she said. “Maybe we could do an annual golf tournament. If we combined forces, we could see larger fundraising events.”
Like many industries, the landscape for public libraries is changing and that motivates the need for creative thinking.
“Our mission is changing,” said Ney. “We’re becoming an information town commons. That’s been important to all libraries.”
And that also drives the desire to collaborate. “We’re trying to unite so that we can present the greatest opportunities for all our residents,” Broomfield said.