Posted by Lori Ayre on June 1, 2006

Sarah Long is the Executive Director of the North Suburban Library System In December of 2005, she wrote an article for the NSLS website about the importance of regional library systems in her state. Her comments are instructive.

Here are Sarah's top ten reasons regional library systems are vital (at least in in Illinois. Per David Letterman, she ends with the the most important reason last:

10. Serve as a catalyst.
9. Promote relevant standards.
8. Model and promote multitype cooperation.
7. Aggregate member power.
6. Facilitate member networking.
5. Facilitate resource sharing.
4. Facilitate the delivery of materials between members.
3. Consult with staff in member libraries.
2. Lead advocacy initiatives.
1. Improve the skills and capabilities and broaden the horizons of staff in member libraries.

The role of regional library systems differs quite a bit state by state. In my state of California, Sarah's list is useful more as a wish list than a description of how California's regional library systems function. In fact, the State Library has just completed a round of focus groups to assess the service role of California's cooperative library system and you'll find that many of the respondents suggested California's regional systems do just what Illinois is already doing. The result of the focus groups will be used to identify the "most effective strategy for retooling resource sharing for California in the 21st century" per State Librarian Susan Hildreth. Here's the full report (pdf).

As I stated in my article Resource Sharing & Library Delivery Services, it is a critical time for resource sharing. Technology is changing fast and users are demanding a level of service that is difficult for libraries to meet but not Google and Amazon. How libraries meet these demands could make all the difference in whether libraries continue to function primarily as repositories of information or whether they transition into something more akin to community centers.