Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

Proposed amendment to library bill would give voters final say

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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 S.B. 348.

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 to remain.

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 more changes.

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.

 

Posted 2/18/2009

 

 

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