Lincoln Public Library offers more through borrowing systems: “Libraries, better than you remember"

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[September 19, 2020] 

Walk into the front doors of the Lincoln Public Library Carnegie Building and what do you see? Maybe the first thing to attract your eye is the beautiful wood reception desk and several of the staff ready to help with questions you might have. Look farther and row upon row of stacks filled with books bring one the traditional library view. Look right and book cases filled with more volumes stand ready to serve you.

Cross the alley behind the main library to the Annex and book shelves filled with fiction offer hours of reading fun.

“The Lincoln Public Library has over 55,000 books, DVD’s, and magazines with the split of about two-thirds in the annex and the rest in the Carnegie Building,” said Assistant Library Director April Jensen. It would take a long time to go through all of these resources, books that can provide fiction and nonfiction to fill lots of reading hours.

What if a library patron wanted a book that is not on a shelf in the Lincoln Public Library? Are they out of luck, maybe forced to go to a Bloomington or Springfield big box book store and buy what they wanted? Not by a long shot!

As if by magic, a library patron can open another portal and see library shelves filled with books that stretch as far as the eye can see, well at least west from Lincoln to the Mississippi River, east to the Wabash River along the Indiana border, and the southern reaches of the state along the Ohio River. The Lincoln Public Library is a member of an amazing organization called the Illinois Heartland Library System (IHLS). How can the IHLS be described? Think of the delivery service Fed Ex and you really have a handle of what IHLS does for libraries in Illinois. Do you have a LPL library card? Then you have access to all of the libraries that make up IHLS.

The IHLS, headquartered in Edwardsville, is made up of 524 member libraries in 58 counties in Illinois. Given that our state has one-hundred two counties, it serves over half of the state including over twenty-eight thousand square miles with a population of more than two million residents. This link ties public libraries, college libraries, and high school and grade school libraries together, and makes their resources available to anyone with a library card living in the IHLS territory, resources that included nine million items.

There are even specialty libraries in the system, think law, medical, and civil engineering resources. Live in Lincoln and need a book that can only be found in the Benton library, you have access to it. Live in Effingham and need a book that can only be found in the Lincoln Public Library. You have access to it and can check it out. Wait a minute! Some of the libraries in the IHLS are hundreds of miles apart. How can you get your hands on a book in Carbondale or Cairo? This is where the Fed Ex analogy comes into play, the hub-and-spoke system of package delivery.

Every evening, Fed Ex collects packages from all over the country, packs them in to a fleet of their aircraft, and flies them to the system hub in Memphis, Tennessee. There the packages are sorted overnight to direct them to their final destination, loaded onto waiting aircraft and flown to their final destination, or at least as close as they can get to the package’s final delivery point. Then they are put on trucks with the iconic logo and delivered to their waiting customers.

The Illinois Heartland Library System works the same way. Well, not quite. The IHLS doesn’t have a fleet of giant aircraft to carry millions of books around the state each day. What they do have is a fleet of 22 vans driven by dedicated employees to ply the highways of its 58 county service area to deliver books from one library to another, perhaps a book or DVD that you ordered. “Every library in the Illinois Heartland System is guaranteed Monday through Friday delivery even if it consists of only one item,” said Susan Palmer, Operations Director of the Illinois Heartland Library System. She is in charge of all of the vans and buildings in the system.

The IHLS has a modified hub-and-spoke system. It has three hubs located in Carbondale, Edwardsville, and Champaign. When a book is plucked from a shelf in a library headed for another library, it is placed in a plastic tub, loaded into a delivery van, and sent to the closest hub to the sending library. There a team of sorters place the book into another tub headed to the hub closest to the receiving library. Sorters at the next hub take over again and place the book into a tub bound for the receiving library. If a book is to remain in the area served by the closest hub to the sending library, it is a simple matter to place it in the receptacle and deliver it to the receiving library, cutting out the second hub. It is truly an amazing process.

The IHLS delivers books to the libraries at Lincoln Christian University and Lincoln College as well as the Lincoln Public Library. The van that delivers books to the Lincoln Public Library typically arrives before the library opens. The driver has a key, let’s himself in, drops off or picks up, and departs.

To carry the Fed Ex idea further, every airport that Fed Ex serves with its flying freighters has a three letter identifier unique to it. Every library that Illinois Heartland vans serve has a unique four letter ID. The Lincoln Public Library ID is LINP. The P indicates that it is a public library. This is a really smooth operation.

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Fed Ex may deliver millions of packages overnight, but the numbers put up by the Illinois Heartland Library System are no less impressive. IHLS vans drive over one million miles and deliver more than 6.4 million items a year in the 58 counties it serves.

Can’t find that latest John Grisham page turner in Lincoln? Well, it is sure to be somewhere in the IHLS. Give your card to a LPL librarian and order it. It is always a pleasure to come into the LPL, but all of the available resources in the IHLS can also be ordered online from home.

Need genealogy information from far southern Illinois? Check out the extensive virtual card catalog of the IHLS, and you may just be surprised to find what you are looking for. Are you doing research for a college term paper from home? Well, now you know about the spectacular research option that is available.

In the 2018-2019 fiscal year, July through June, the patrons of the Lincoln Public Library borrowed 11,543 items from libraries in the Illinois Heartland Library System, while Lincoln loaned out 16,653 items. “We are down somewhat this year, because the library was closed due to the virus lockdown, but it is easy to see what a valuable resource the IHLS is,” said April Jensen.

Illinois has two other library systems in addition to IHLS, one serving northern Illinois called RAILS and one for Chicago. Books from those systems are available also, but cannot be ordered online. A special request for a book outside the IHLS has to be made to a library staff member, and they would search for it. It would probably be sent to the Lincoln Public Library by the US Postal Service.

But that does not end the possibilities of finding the right book. The borders of Illinois are not the end of the search potential. A book that is only available at the Lincoln Public Library was requested by a person in Denmark. “It was a manual on how to repair a particular type of motor scooter. We had the only copy, so I took it to the post office and mailed it to Denmark,” said Jensen. Books from the Lincoln Public Library have gone all over the United States including Alaska and Hawaii.

Libraries are magical and librarians are the magicians who can find that important resource you need. Books, DVD’s, and magazines come to mind when library resources are discussed. But libraries in the Illinois Heartland Library System also have displays available that a student can use for a presentation.

“In order to be a member of the Illinois Heartland Library System, a library must meet several qualifications,” said Susan Palmer. The library must be open fifteen hours a week, have at least one paid employee, and must have a searchable collection. “Once a library is a member, the book exchange between libraries is free,” said Palmer. You heard that right.

Except for paying for the software that searches library resources, everything else is free, paid for by the Illinois Secretary of State. And that free library card you get at your local public library, well it is good at any library in Illinois.

The state of Illinois has reciprocal borrowing at all libraries. While traveling in northern Illinois, did you take out a book at the Rockford library with your Lincoln Public Library card? Well, thanks to the Illinois Heartland Library System, you can return that book to the Lincoln Public Library and Illinois Heartland will deliver it back to Rockford for you. The RAILS System and IHLS meet in Champaign every evening and exchange books. This is an amazing operation.

“Libraries, better than you remember” is a quote from Susan Palmer. The Illinois Heartland Library System and its member libraries is a remarkable operation. The range of knowledge located in the 524 libraries that make up the system, the delivery option that includes all of those members, and employees that make it all happen is a truly wonderful service.

Don’t have a library card? Go to the Lincoln Public Library Annex and apply for one. The card is free to residents and available for an annual fee to those living outside the district. A LPL library card gives you access to the Lincoln Public Library and the world of libraries beyond thanks to the Illinois Heartland Library System.

[Curtis Fox]

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