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Library loan program is working well



Last modified: Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Can there be anything more quintessentially New Hampshire than the Inter-Library Loan program?

That's the service through which the local library in Canterbury can borrow a book from the library in Nashua. And the library in Nashua can have access to the library holdings in Keene. And a reader in Loudon can quickly get her hands on a volume from Portsmouth. You get the idea.

Unlike in other states, where large county libraries serve broad geographic areas, New Hampshire readers are served by scores of small - sometimes tiny - libraries supported by municipal taxes, housed mostly in charming historic buildings in the centers of small towns. Individually, most of their holdings are small. But together, they provide readers a wide range of materials. As Lisa Prizio, the librarian in Chichester, told the Monitor last week, her town is pretty frugal; the Inter-Library Loan program allows taxpayers to stretch a dollar clear across the state.

The service is provided through four state vans financed by the federal government. Last year, the vans moved 800,000 materials back and forth, town to town. Rep. Steve Vaillancourt of Manchester, however, thinks there might be a better use for the money. He's behind a measure requiring the state librarian to write a report suggesting alternatives.

Vaillancourt would like the state to use just one van, rather than four. New Hampshire, he says, doesn't need a "gold-plated" service in which books arrive promptly after they're ordered. His view seems largely Manchester-centric. After all, in many small towns, the book vans arrive far less frequently than that (once a week in Chichester, for instance). And patrons aren't sitting around waiting only for leisure-time novels but also for research material necessary for school projects and work. Often, time is of the essence.

We're not in a position to judge the perfect number of Inter-Library Loan vans - but slowing the service down is surely a bad idea. New Hampshire should be looking for more ways for small communities to cooperate, particularly when money is tight. The book vans are a simple, valuable way to save taxpayers the cost of duplicative purchasing. It works. It's popular. Legislators should leave well enough alone.