Regional partnership links dozens of libraries around state

By Henry Bailey/The Commercial Appeal

HERNANDO – Need tips on aiding an ailing aardvark? There’s help from the College of Veterinary Medicine Library at Mississippi State University in Starkville.
Interested in the cosmic concepts of zero? Look for them at the Fant Library of the School for Math and Science at Mississippi University for Women in Columbus. And forget a road trip.
“If you need it, it’s now available to you,” Barbara Evans, assistant director for public services of the Hernando-based, five-county First Regional Library system, says of the Mississippi Library Partnership.
For other topics, tomes, tales, histories and mysteries from A to Z, there are 38 other library collections available in the first-year resource-sharing partnership with First Regional.
It’s opening a new chapter for high-tech efficiency, cost-savings to taxpayers, and access to 2 million books and other materials for system patrons.
“It used to be called the Golden Triangle Regional Library Consortium,” said Evans, “but since its expansion beyond the Starkville-Columbus area of mid-Mississippi, the service area doesn’t look like a triangle anymore. I’m not sure what you’d call the shape.”
She and other system officials and users would call the arrangement a soaring success since the partnership’s low-key launch in March after the First Library board approved the linkup the previous November.
“I love it,” said Carol McGarrity, a Hernando library user. “As an ‘information junkie,’ I really appreciate our new library system. I’m able to log on and instantly have access; I browse subjects from art and artists to health and wellness and all in between: E-books, CDs and DVDs are all available.”
“What we’re about is serving our patrons,” said Hernando Head Librarian Heather Lawson. “We can make a lot more of them happy. Especially when it comes to research materials, we’ve got access to more than we could ever buy.”
“For anyone with a First Library card, it’s expanded their options exponentially,” said Evans.
“Bookmark” surveys returned to the staff show positive reviews from Oxford to Batesville to Southaven, where a college student praised “Fast!” service. In Hernando, a school-age user even lauded a “really nice” checkout center.
Started in 1993 as a venture between MSU and MUW libraries (7 libraries now, including research and architecture branches), the partnership has added the Tombigbee Regional Library system (10 libraries), East Mississippi Community College system (two); Starkville School District (one); Starkville-Oktibbeha County Public Library system (three); Columbus-Lowndes Public Library system (four); and the five-county Mid-Mississippi Regional Library system (13). Now comes First Regional, bringing 13 branches across DeSoto, Tunica, Tate, Panola and Lafayette counties, to surge the total to 53 libraries.
Behind the numbers, First Regional now connects its bibliographic and patron databases to the SIRSI library automation system housed at Mississippi State for circulation, online catalog, acquisition and serials tasks, with the university providing technical support and system management.
The online catalog is a huge hit, allowing patrons to place holds or requests for books held at other member libraries.
The Hernando branch functions as the hub: “We’ve been sending down 30 to 35 boxes of material each week, and about the same number come back,” said Evans.
“One thing we don’t list is DVDs, because our policy is not to allow anyone under 18 to check them out, but they can still be obtained through interlibrary loan,” said Evans.
The boost provided by the partnership comes as First Regional struggles to maintain services and programs despite flat allocations from its member counties and cities.
For fiscal 2013, system director Catherine Nathan has asked Hernando aldermen for $105,000, a slight hike from fiscal 2012′s $100,288. She and her team plan to submit their DeSoto request to the Board of Supervisors at the panel’s Sept. 4 meeting; funding has been static for three years at about $1.3 million.