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Rep targets federal inter-library grant



Last modified: Friday, October 07, 2011
Librarians and book borrowers across the state are protesting a lawmaker's proposal that they fear would be the end of the inter-library loan program, a popular state service that shuttles books from libraries that can spare them to libraries that need them. Last year, the vans moved 800,000 materials around the state.

Nearly 60 people have signed a petition at Chichester's library seeking to save the program. And more than 125 people have signed a similar petition at the Chesley Memorial Library in Northwood. Federal money pays for the loan service, including the four vans that ferry books along 22 routes in the state five days a week.

"I think any small library is in the same boat we are in," said Donna Bunker, Northwood's librarian. There are 17,000 books inside the Northwood library, but patrons have access to two million volumes through the inter-library loan program. Students at the local high school can also request books through the service. "There is no way you can buy everything, and the inter-library loan is a lifesaver."

What's unclear is how threatened the inter-library loan program is.

The state lawmaker behind this firestorm said yesterday that while he'd like to cut the service from four vans to one, he couldn't do that in the last legislative session. Rep. Steven Vaillancourt's complaint is that the van service is too available.

Vaillancourt, a Manchester Republican, described himself as a frequent user of the inter-library loan program. What irks him, he said yesterday, is that he gets his requested books within a day or two. He'd be happier to wait longer and save money by reducing the number of vans, he said.

"The state does not need a gold-plated service," he said.

When Vaillancourt realized the Legislature could not cut the federally-funded vans, he said lawmakers instead requested the state Department of Cultural Resources tell the Legislature by Nov. 30 what it could do with its federal money if it eliminated most of its inter-library loan vans.

The measure was passed by lawmakers but went into law without the governor's signature. It reads: "It is the intent of (the Legislature) that the department . . . review the federal program guidelines for which it receives federal dollars to support library programs and seek to amend its five-year plan to use funding that had been designated to support three of the inter-library vans for other purposes."

Librarians read that as an order to refigure the state library budget, federal dollars included, without three of the four inter-library loan vans. Vaillancourt disagrees and said the passage only asks state library officials to consider the possibility of using the van money for some other purpose, like buying books.

Vaillancourt accused librarians and the state Department of Cultural Resources of intentionally hyping and misrepresenting the issue to get back at lawmakers for cutting the department's budget. "This is payback," Vaillancourt said. "This is a scare tactic."

Tactic or not, the state's librarians are scared.

"This is a vital resource for us," said Rob Sargent, library director in Franklin, where the inter-library loan van visits once a week. The library has just 30,000 books of its own. Concord's library director Pat Inman said her library borrowed 2,273 books for patrons in the last fiscal year and loaned out 2,507 books. "It's a wonderful resource sharing system," she said. "And it doesn't put any financial burden on the library."

Lisa Prizio, Chichester's librarian, said her patrons use the service "all the time." The van comes once a week, and Prizio loans or borrows 30 books a week she said.

"We are really frugal in this town," she said. "This is the one thing that the state does that we really need. If they got rid of a database (paid for with federal money), 98 percent of the people in town probably wouldn't care. But if they got rid of this, it would affect a lot of people."

The New Hampshire Libraries Trustee Association has made the "Save the Vans" campaign the center of its website. The site urges library users to contact their lawmakers, sign petitions and to write to state librarian Michael York about their personal use of the loan program. "Be passionate about this, and we will be able to save the vans!!!," the site says.

York is at work on his report due to lawmakers Nov. 30.

The state Department of Cultural Resources, which includes the state library, receives $1.2 million a year from the federal Institute of Museums and Library Services. For the past 15 years, the state has used some of that money to pay for the vans, drivers and computer system needed for the inter-library loan program, York said.

Federal authorities require the state to submit a spending plan five years at a time, and if the plan meets federal requirements, it is approved. New Hampshire's plans, including the inter-library loan program, have always received approval.

The state is at the end of one five-year plan now and in June, it will have to submit its next five-year plan. York did not know yesterday how any decision by lawmakers might determine his upcoming plan and budget request.

Neither did Vaillancourt.

"Sometimes we like to have a little light when do any legislation," he said. "This will give us a little information so the next Legislature can make decisions in the light."

Mary Chute, deputy director with the federal library department, said yesterday that lawmakers should have a voice in how the federal money is used - but not the only voice.

"There should indeed be input from the community," Chute said. "But that community includes not just the Legislature, but also the people who run the library and the people who use the libraries."

York has heard a great deal from the last two groups. "I have not heard from one librarian or one library trustee or one patron who thinks (cutting the number of vans) makes sense," he said. "They all think that this doesn't make sense."

(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323 or at atimmins@cmonitor.com.)