Library systems merger a win-win scenario for all

BIGGER IS BETTER HOLDS when it means economy of scale that provides better service and a wider range of selections for all users at a reduced cost.

That will be true of the pending merger between the Eastern Shores Library System and the Mid Wisconsin Federated Library System.

The merger of the two systems, set to take effect next Jan. 1, will bring together 33 libraries in four counties – Dodge, Ozaukee and Washington as well as Sheboygan – under one umbrella.

It will mark the first time that two multi-county library systems in the state have merged, which makes it something of “a guinea pig,” as Plymouth Library Director Martha Rosche told the City Council last month in her report on the pending merger.

The two systems are among 17 such single- or multi-county library systems in the state that have been providing enhanced library services to state residents for more than four decades.

The planned merger of the two districts, Rosche told the council, came about after the Mid Wisconsin system – which includes Dodge and Washington counties - learned its director would be retiring and officials there determined that their best future option would be merger with another system.

Further study showed that the best option for a merger would be with Eastern Shores – which includes Sheboygan and Ozaukee counties.

That merger has been approved by the County Boards in all four member counties and is proceeding toward the Jan. 1 target date.

There are many advantages for libraries in all four counties, including those in Plymouth and Elkhart Lake, as Rosche pointed out for the council.

Primarily, but not solely, it will nearly double the number of available items that library patrons will have access to under the new system. Eastern Shores has more than 600,000 holdings while Mid Wisconsin has just under 500,000; the new system will offer residents of all four counties more than 1.1 million books, movies, recordings and more to choose from.

Granted, many of those will be duplications, but even that is a bonus, as it makes more copies of more popular items available, meaning patrons who want one of those items will have a better chance of getting it in the new, expanded system. And each system is sure to have at least a few rarer items in its collection that the other did not, making those available to more patrons.

At the bottom line, the new system will save money for local taxpayers by eliminating duplicate services and facilities and reducing costs for most services. Some estimates of the savings have been as much as $1 million.

There is no doubt that the cost savings are a major argument for the merger in these times of tight local budgets, but the added benefits of the merged systems for library patrons go way beyond mere dollars and cents.

Both Plymouth and Elkhart Lake boast fine local libraries, with a wide offering of items, services and programs, offered by dedicated and helpful staffs.

Now those fine facilities will have the added muscle of a 33-library, 1 million-plus item collection of the merged library system.

It will make what’s already great all that much better.

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