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Illinois Money Woes Threaten Interlibrary Lending

By Prescott Carlson in News on Jun 5, 2010 4:30PM

Photo by ankylosaur
One of the great things about the public library system in the modern age is the ability to stumble across a book recommendation online then immediately jump over to the library website, search for the book title you want, and put it on hold. Your branch doesn't have it? No problem, they'll automatically initiate an interlibrary loan and the book will be delivered to your local library, often within a couple of business days.

But that convenience could be in jeopardy as Illinois gets further and further behind in its bills including payments to libraries -- no state funds have been issued to the nine regional library systems in almost a year. The lack of funding so drastically affected the North Suburban Library System that it completely shut down on May 31, leaving 49 suburban libraries scrambling to continue their interlibrary van deliveries by paying for it themselves. Many are tapping into their already dwindling book budgets to provide the service, which for the Park Ridge Public Library alone will cost $3,400 per month.

Round Lake Library Director Jim DiDonato was quoted as saying the elimination of interlibrary loans "would be a significant and dramatic loss," adding:

"People can still borrow items, by state statute, but will they want to drive to Peoria or Cairo or Springfield to pick them up?"

DiDonato reported that the library processed a record 5,498 interlibrary loans in March, and that in these hard economic times checkouts are at an all-time high and people are flocking to the library to fill out unemployment benefit applications on the library's computers. The independent interlibrary system is undergoing a three-month trial period, but if after three months it proves unsustainable, van delivery will be eliminated and the libraries may turn to mailing books, the cost of which would be passed on to patrons.