In 1948, an experiment was conducted to see if New York State could promote shared services among small rural public libraries. The site of the experiment was Watertown, New York, and the results would change library service in America.
On the staff were eight librarians to help the member libraries adopt polices, improve their collections, provide reference service and improve funding. In addition, librarians had to create a regional card catalog from scratch, design an interlibrary loan system, and start a delivery route. This was a new endeavor in the library world, and people traveled to the system from around the country to observe its progress.
After a successful decade-long trial period, the North Country Library System was chartered in 1958, and what began as an experiment in collaboration led to a statewide network of 23 public library systems, 41 schools systems and nine “3R’s” systems.
Today, the NCLS service area includes Jefferson, Lewis, Oswego, and St. Lawrence counties in rural Northern New York – a geographical area of approximately 6,200 square miles. NCLS provides services to 65 libraries, three reading centers and five correctional facilities.
Over the past 66 years typewriters have become computers and the information from the card catalog now zips through fiber optic connections. NCLS assists the member libraries in keeping pace with technology by hosting and designing web sites, providing databases, installing secure wireless service, maintaining a circulation system and fixing PC problems remotely. But some things have remained the same. Librarians conduct classes and workshops for member library staff and trustees on the field of librarianship, including funding, technology, programming, and advocacy. NCLS assists member libraries with all manner of services, from grants and state reports to printing projects and materials repairs. New directors and trustees receive their orientation from NCLS, and our delivery service covers an area larger than the state of Connecticut!
The success of NCLS rests on the continuing close relationship that exists between system staff and the dedicated staff and trustees in the libraries. The challenges in theNorth Countryremain distances and economics. (Not to mention our famous winter weather.)
With libraries 70 miles to south, 100 miles to the north and 75 miles to the east from the NCLS Service Center, workshops are increasingly difficult to convene. We are answering this with more focused regional meetings, webinars, and video-conferences. The majority of NCLS libraries serve small villages, with populations of a few hundred or a couple thousand. A group of extremely dedicated staff and trustees provide their patrons with community centers, children’s programs, electronic resources for the life-long learner, and a portal to the information world.
Due to severe cuts in state aid, the cooperative experiment of 1948 is severely challenged today, but the same spirit of innovation and dedication that still infuses North Country library supporters will carry us forward.