Thursday, October 25, 2007

A Systematic Approach

The Kankakee Public Library is a member of a library consortium called the Prairie Area Library System (PALS). What this means is that this library and many other regional libraries throughout over 20 counties in northwestern Illinois and even into Iowa use one library catalog and share materials with each other via a system-wide delivery. Many users don't realize – or really care to know - about our consortia membership on the surface, but we are all happy to reap the benefits of being in a library system when it works for us. But what happens when it doesn't work for us?

Sometimes at KPL we ask ourselves the issue that consortium members don't regularly talk about – do we still need the system? The State of Illinois is having extreme economic hardships right now – we feel these hard times when we're turned down for state grants and we see the toll that the State's financial woes has on our own library system's financial situation. No matter what the financial status of the state, the trend in libraries is that the systems are gradually fading away. Member libraries have become more self-reliant and systems (like our own) have become so large and cover such a vast geographical area that, some would argue, systems nearly become impossible to serve their member libraries effectively.

Now, I've worked at KPL for 8 years and the library system has been the backbone of our institution. They didn't get us where we are today (our tireless director and the Mayor of Kankakee did that); however PALS has humbly supported us and allowed us to shine with their staff support. During my 5 ½ years of heading the Circulation Department at KPL, a day didn't go by where I didn't receive assistance, guidance, and support from PALS. In the past 2 ½ years that I’ve headed the Adult Services Department here, though my reliance on the PALS staff for everyday support has lessened, the consultation and technological support they've given me has been invaluable. PALS IT staff has gotten us out of a few dozen technological jams, answered my relentless software issues and pretty much entertained my every idea about how I think the system could improve – and they do it all with humor and kindness and with warmth. All systems are flawed, of course, and PALS is not exempt. For example, it is a challenge for library staff to attend meetings where the most "centralized" location in the system is 2 hours away. But whether the users of the Kankakee Public Library realize it or not, being a member of a library system has proven to be beneficial, both directly – for example with delivery of interlibrary loan material, and indirectly – with library staff support. It's hard to say where PALS or any library system will be in 10 or 20 years, but at least for now, we're secure in knowing that the alliance we've formed in this consortium has been very worthwhile.

Allison Beasley
Head of Adult Services Dept.
Kankakee Public Library


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