Spring 2011

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systemoverview: North Country Library System

by Steve Bolton, System Director

Spring 2011 issue of Trustee

The North Country Library System (NCLS), based in Watertown, covers 6200 square miles in Jefferson. Lewis, Oswego and St. Lawrence counties, and pro- vides services to 65 libraries, three reading centers and five correctional facilities. Chartered in 1958, after a 10-year collaborative initiative, the system has seen growth and many changes. Typewriters have become computers, the information from the card catalog now zips along through cable and fiber optic connections. NCLS has
kept pace with improved web sites, a shared circulation system that resides on the latest VM (virtual machine, or server) technology, and software that shortens distances by reach-
ing out remotely to fix problems on computers that are often 50 to 100 miles away.
But some things remain, yet continue to evolve:
• the challenge of a delivery service with 115 weekly stops over an area larger than the State of Connecticut • seasonal fluctuation in patronage at libraries with- in the Adirondack Park, near the St. Lawrence
River and Lake Ontario • classes to keep up-to-date with technology • workshops on a myriad of topics of concern • meetings to orient new Trustees and Directors • Grant assistance • providing printing service for flyers, posters,
newsletter and bookmarks • the great “miscellaneous”: bulk mailings, filing
E-rate forms, Annual Reports, and moral support
during trying times • helping libraries improve funding: 50 NCLS
libraries now use school, municipal or district ballots to provide a segment, or a majority of their support. Any success NCLS has or will achieve rests on the continuing close relationship that exists between sys- tem staff and the dedicated staff and Trustees in the
libraries. The challenges in the North Country remain distances and economics. With libraries 65 miles to the south, 100 miles to the north and 75 miles to the east, workshops and meetings are increasingly difficult to convene. We are answering this need with more focused regional meetings, webinars, and soon will add tele- conferencing. The majority of NCLS libraries serve small villages, with populations of a few hundred or a couple thousand, and half have budgets of less than $50,000. So the heavy-lifting falls to a group of extremely dedicated people who provide a community center, children’s programs, electronic resources for the life-long
learner, and a portal to the information world.
The cooperative that has helped small libraries pro- vide information services and kept them vital has been challenged by a continual decline of State sup- port over the past 20 years. From 1948 through the 1980’s, NCLS had eight librarians. Today we strug- gle to afford the State-mandated four positions. In the 1990’s NCLS had a materials budget of $130,000 and awarded cash grants. Both are long gone, and many services have been gradually pushed to the local level, along with the expense. In spite of chal- lenges, services will be carried on by the same spirit of innovation and dedication that is still evident in North Country library supporters.

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