Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Libraries as System Members: the "Same Services" Provision

Equalizing Library Services to All Wisconsin Residents

In Wisconsin, public libraries can (and all do) participate as members in their regional Public Library System. The cooperative library systems we have in Wisconsin were first established in the early 1970's as a way to help equalize public libraries services throughout Wisconsin. They resulted following changes made in the 1960's that had eliminated components of the Free Library Commission, which was decommissioned in 1965. During that transition it was acknowledged that more than 400,000 Wisconsin citizens resided in areas that were not directly served by a public library. By providing a cooperative structure for existing public libraries, including a central resource library with a large collection to share, the expectation was that participating counties would provide for public library services even to those living in rural towns that did not directly support a public library.

young boy seated in library from Pixabay

By 1979 changes were implemented to better assure that at least the "headquarters" library would provide walk-in service to anyone. A provision was added to Chapter 43 as s. 43.24(2)(d)1. that initially required the system headquarters library, by the end of the second year of the new system plan, to provide:  "Complete library service as provided at the headquarters library or at the resource library if different from the headquarters library to any resident of the system on the same terms as the service is available to residents of the headquarters community.” By the end of the third year of the plan, s. 43.24(2)(e)3. required "the honoring of valid borrowers' cards of all public libraries in the system by all public libraries in the system.”

The concept of statewide service was expanded further in the 1985 state budget when a requirement was added that all public libraries in a public library system shall honor the valid borrowers' cards of 'a public library in an adjacent public library system, other than the Milwaukee county federated library system." 

But, still, use of public library by a Wisconsin resident first required obtaining a library card from a local library. If the local library did not extend service through its county plan to residents of municipalities without a library, there was still the potential for service gaps. Following a Joint Legislative Council process in the late 1990's, 1997 Act 150 was adopted with sweeping changes to library funding, governance, and sharing, including the use of "same services" that we reference today. In that bill, 43.15(c) 4. was created, as part of system membership requirements, that each library "enters into a written agreement with the public library system provide, to any resident of the system area, the same library services, on the same terms, that are provided to the residents of the municipality or county that established the member library...."

Since the intent of "same services" was to ensure that any Wisconsin resident could go to a public library and be able to use services there, some particular issues had to be addresses. First a provision was added that allowed libraries to give preferential treatment to its own residents for group programs conducted by the library. Later, impediments arose around databases and other resources that some libraries purchased for its users. Since remote access was an attractive (and sometimes a key) feature, a provision was added as part of 2005 Act 226 to allow for "remote access to a library's electronic database only to its residents."

Further developments in digital resources, such as downloadable E-books digital media presented additional licensing issues that have been addressed in recent legislation by recently changing the reference to "electronic database" to "online resources" in 2015 Act 306. That bill provided a structure under which a tribal college library could serve as a public library for its county, and the change affords a means by which online resources licensed for its college students would not have to be made available to all residents of the library system.

That most recent change also provides a clearer mechanism for public libraries that to license online digital resources that may be remotely available only to its own residents. Library boards, directors and staff should keep in mind, however, that the "same services" provision still requires that, should a non-resident from your system area ask to use those resources while visiting your library, you must provide a means for that access that fully meets the law--the "same services, on the same terms, that are provided to the residents of the municipality...." So if a local resident can, while in the library, access and use a particular online service on their own handheld device, others from the system area must similarly be provided access. If you, as a library director or staff, are considering products offered by vendors of online resources, be sure to make careful consideration of those requirements before contracting for those services. Discuss the issue with your library board, as well as the director or staff of your regional public library system to make ensure that you do not jeopardize your library's eligibility for membership in the system.

Written by John DeBacher, Public Library Development Team