Consolidating and Merging Libraries
Before finalizing a plan to transition to a public library district form of governance and funding, libraries should consider the option of merging or consolidating with other libraries in the area. Consolidation or merging may be advantageous when there are two libraries situated within a single school district or a township. In these cases, rather than have each library continue to serve a portion of the school district or township, it may make sense to form a single administrative structure to run both libraries. This simplifies funding and governance and may make it easier for voters to understand the library structure. It also ensures that people within the township or school district are uniformly taxed for library services.
Merging libraries does not necessarily mean that one of the library outlets will close. It simply means that there will be a single governance and funding structure. There are several examples where libraries in New York State have merged and continue to operate multiple outlets. The Chemung County Library District resulted from a merger of two autonomous libraries; the Horseheads Free Library and the Steele Memorial Library in Elmira. The new district continues to operate both libraries and each facility has its own friends group and supporting foundation. The Northern Onondaga Library District involved a merger of three autonomous libraries; the Cicero Free Library, the Brewerton Free Library, and the North Syracuse Free Library. The three libraries remain open under a single administrative and governance structure. And still another example is the Western Sullivan Public Library in Sullivan County, a special district public library that involved the merger of three public libraries; the Tusten-Cochecton Public Library, the Delaware Free Library, and the Jeffersonville Public Library. The three libraries now operate as separate branches under a single administrative and governance structure.Obviously merging multiple autonomous libraries into a single district involves additional issues that must be addressed and thus may extend the timeline for creation of a new merged district. Discussions with potential merger partners should begin early on in the process to test any interest in consolidating operations and governance. Among those issues that should be discussed are; fairness of representation on a single governing board; budgeting and financing a combined library district; merging staff and administrative structures; merging assets; ownership of library facilities; assurances for continued operation of multiple library outlets; and public reaction to a combined district. Depending on the complexity of these and other issues, the effort to create a merged district may add several months to the timeline for creating a new library district. In spite of the additional preparation time, libraries are encouraged to investigate merging or consolidating operations. Advantages may include: simplified and fairer taxation for residents; efficiencies to be gained by merging operations (single rather than multiple administrations and support services); and simplified recruitment of trustees for a merged library board rather than two or more separate boards.