Director: Library vans needed

Last modified: 12/3/2011 12:00:00 AM
If the state library cut its fleet of vans ferrying books between libraries from four to one, the state would need nearly $100,000 a year to mail the borrowed items or be forced to kill the state's most popular library service, according to a report requested by legislators.

State Librarian Michael York delivered that conclusion this week to the House Finance Committee at the request of Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, who asked this fall whether the federal money paying for the vans could be put to better use.

York's report runs eight pages, but the short answer is: No.

First, the four vans, which moved 800,000 books and other items among the state's libraries last year, are incredibly popular.

The van service is the only way small libraries across the state can offer their patrons access to the 2 million books and other items held collectively by all the libraries. Of the 150 library directors who responded to a survey by the New Hampshire Library Association, all said the van service was 'very important,' the highest rating possible, according to York's report.

And more than 18,000 people signed petitions supporting the vans and interlibrary loan program.

Second, the vans are a good deal compared with the cost of shipping the books.

The vans move a single item one way for an average cost of 44 cents, regardless of its weight and size, York's report said. Alternative carriers are far more expensive: The U.S. Postal Service would charge $2.41 per item, one-way; United Parcel Service would get $3.37 an item; and FedEx would charge $3.27 an item, the report said. Those carriers would also charge more for heavier or larger objects.

By York's estimate, the state would spend an additional $95,000 to $125,000 to move books among libraries if it put the federal van money to another use.

'Reducing funds currently allocated to the inter-library loan to a level that would only support one delivery van . . . would render the program so ineffective that it would cease to exist,' he wrote.

The library vans and the federal grant that helps pay for them came under scrutiny earlier this year when Vaillancourt, a Manchester Republican and a frequent user of the interlibrary loan program, decided he was getting his borrowed items faster than he needed to. He told the Monitor in October that he'd be willing to wait longer for his books if it allowed the state to put the federal van money to another use.

'The state does not need a gold-plated service,' Vaillancourt told the Monitor in October.

At Vaillancourt's urging, the House Finance Committee asked York to tell it how else he'd use the federal money if he cut the van fleet to one vehicle.

York's report this week concluded that the state and public library staff and residents who use the program 'have made clear that the federal funds spent on the interlibrary loan van service are very well spent.' If York had to use the money elsewhere, his report said, it would go toward e-books, downloadable audio books and databases, the report said.

York declined to comment on his report yesterday. When asked whether he will keep all four library vans on the road, he referred a reporter to page four of his report, which describes the budgeting process he follows for federal grants.

Federal library officials require York to submit two reports every five years. The first evaluates how the state used the last five-year federal grant. The second one looks ahead at how the state would use the next five-year grant.

York is working on those reports now: The evaluation is due in March and the next-five year budget plan is due in June. The future of the vans will be known once the June report is submitted.

Vaillancourt could not be reached yesterday.

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




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