Bridgewater, Norton, Wareham join network of outcast libraries

Theresa Knapp Enos

Five local libraries that lost their state certification are no longer struggling to provide services alone.

Through a sharing agreement among the libraries, residents of Bridgewater, Norton, Wareham, Freetown and Assonet, which is a section of Freetown, are borrowing books and other materials from one another.

The Bridgewater Public Library is the latest to join the group which, while shut out from regional library sharing networks, decided to open their resources to each other.

“We’ve seen a significant increase in the materials that we’ve been getting in deliveries,” said Bridgewater Public Library Director Betty Gregg.

The Bridgewater library was decertified by the state Board of Library Commissioners in February 2008 after its budget was slashed the previous year. Most libraries in the area will no longer loan to residents of Bridgewater, or any other town whose library is decertified.

Libraries may be decertified if they fail to meet state standards for funding, hours of operation and other criteria. Typically, the state board grants waivers to its requirements for a year or two before decertifying the library.

The sharing network was created to address the rising number of public libraries which have been decertified in the ongoing budget crunch. Bridgewater joined the network in March, allowing library card holders in that town to borrow materials from four other decertified libraries.

“We’re doing our best in an unfortunate situation,” said Wareham Free Library Director Susan Pizzolato. “Now we, at least, have some other libraries to share and borrow with, and that’s been helpful to Wareham.”

“The ultimate goal is to continue to provide as much library service as possible, and that means getting materials from a wide area,” says Pizzolato.

The Southeastern Massachusetts Library System — the state-funded delivery system that transports items among the 386 libraries in the region — shuttles the materials among the decertified sites.

Southeastern Massachusetts Library System regional administrator Cynthia Roach said statewide numbers of items borrowed have increased overall — from 3.3 million in the previous fiscal year to an expected 3.6 million this year.

The number of items borrowed from the Bridgewater library plunged after it became decertified last year, but those figures are back up since the town joined the decertified network, she said.

And there’s more good news for patrons of decertified libraries. In addition to borrowing from each other, those card holders have borrowing privileges at the Boston Public Library because it is Massachusetts’ “library of last recourse.”

That means that Boston’s 6 million books and hundreds of thousands of other items must be accessible to all residents of the state who cannot get them locally.

The Enterprise