By VICKI URBANIK
A bill feared by many as possibly diminishing local control
over libraries is now being viewed much more favorably, due to an amendment
that could be voted on this week.
Westchester Public Library Director Phil Baugher said he
hasn’t seen the language yet, but that it’s his understanding that the
amendment to S.B. 348 would allow local voters, through a referendum, to opt
out of a proposed consolidation with their county library system.
WPL officials learned about the amendment late Friday. “We
felt that was pretty positive,” Baugher said.
The amendment was offered by State Sen. Luke Kenley, the chair
of the Senate Appropriations Commit-tee, following testimony on the bill last
week. The amendment is expected to be voted on by the committee on Thursday.
State Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, who is also on the
committee, said Saturday that the
committee hearing last week was packed with residents of the Speedway
community who opposed consolidating their local library with the county’s.
She also said that when she questioned the support for the bill, she found
that many libraries throughout Indiana do not support the original intent of
The bill calls for planning committees in each county to
recommend a library service model, one of which could be a consolidated
system. WPL officials were particularly concerned by language that the local
plans would need approval by the state.
Under one amendment, counties that did not recommend a
consolidated county system would need
to demonstrate why their model would be better. That amendment was
seen as a way to make it more difficult for township or independent libraries
But now with Kenley’s amendment, a proposal that had been
viewed as rather negative for local libraries like WPL might possibly turn
positive, Baugher said. He noted, though, that the bill could still face many
Michigan City Library Director Don Glossinger said he supports
S.B. 348 if, as it’s now being understood, “the decision-making would be in
the hands of the local people.”
Like WPL, Glossinger said he believes that control of
libraries should be kept local. The Michigan City Library
is a rather large library that
directly serves about half the population of LaPorte County. Glossinger said
he doesn’t see how added efficiency would be achieved by merging the Michigan
City library with the LaPorte county system.
He said he views S.B. 348 as a positive response to state’s
local government reform report commonly known as the Kernan-Shepard report.
Many library directors viewed the Kernan-Shepard’s recommendation on library
consolidation as a “cookie-cutter” answer, he said. S.B. 348 was a positive
alternative, because instead of forcing consolidation, it offered the local
community the opportunity to have a say in how its library system should be
structured, he said.
But Glossinger also said: “All things being equal, we’d just
like to be left alone.”
The Kernan-Shepard report found that many areas of the state
are under-served by libraries and that an estimated 395,000 Hoosiers in 38
counties lack access to library services. But instead of calling for new
county library systems in those underserved areas, the report called
for consolidating all township and
independent libraries --- like WPL, Michigan City, Whiting and Lowell
-- with their county systems. According to the report, Indiana has too many
library administrators, but not too many libraries.
Baugher said as he understands the Kenley amendment, local
voters in an underserved area could opt out of consolidation as well.