For more than 20 years, Cumberland County residents could use a single library card to access books, movies, the Internet and other services at libraries run by the county, its community college and its three cities.
But what began as an effort by a cash-strapped county government to save money two years ago has resulted in competing library systems that could force some county residents to pay for services they once got for free.
The end of the reciprocal CLUES system involving the county library in Bridgeton and the municipal libraries in Bridgeton, Millville and Vineland also left some bitter feelings: County officials said the municipal libraries were more than welcome to join their new system. Officials in the municipal libraries said their input was never really welcome.
Cumberland County Library Director Jean Edwards said her library’s new LOGIN system gives users far more resources with which to work by linking with libraries throughout Gloucester and Salem counties. County residents can use LOGIN, which went online Nov. 1 and is also used at Cumberland County College, for free, she said.
Edwards said LOGIN also meets the county’s goal of saving taxpayers money: The system costs $24,000 annually, about half of what the county paid for the system linked with CLUES. CLUES also came with other potential costs — for things such as web server replacement — that could further increase the annual costs by more than $28,000.
“The decision to join LOGIN was made carefully and is the right direction for the Cumberland County Library,” said Cumberland County Library Commission Chairwoman Gail Overdevest.
Library officials in Bridgeton, Millville and Vineland say their new Sierra system is an upgrade over the system linked to CLUES. The actual yearly cost is still being determined, they said.
The three municipal libraries are using an interim system until Sierra goes online early next year.
But while residents in Bridgeton, Millville and Vineland can use those municipal libraries for free, residents in the rest of the county will have to pay for services at those facilities. Those costs are also being determined.
Bridgeton Library Director Gail Robinson said that could affect many residents who live in outlying townships and find it easier to get to the municipal libraries than to visit the county library.
For instance, Robinson said, many residents in the rural, western half of the county use Bridgeton’s municipal libraries. Residents in places such as Commercial and Maurice River townships find it easier to get to Millville’s municipal library than to drive to the county library, she said.
“We believe in cooperation,” Vineland Public Library Director Gloria Urban said of the three municipal libraries. “There was a great desire on the part of the three to stay together in a group.”
However, Urban admits that, “I think it was a stronger system when all of us in the county were with one system.”
Library users will have to find out what works best for them.
Elizabeth Koerkel is a 34-year-old social worker from Vineland. Koerkel said she goes to Vineland’s municipal library frequently to do research linked with her ongoing college courses involving social work.
Koerkel said she does not care which library system she uses, as all library systems tend to be similar and easy to access.
“They all have their benefits,” she said.
Another Vineland resident, 44-year-old Jason Grimson, was using a computer at the Vineland library recently to help him find a job. He said it does not make sense for county residents to have to use a different library system when they should all be working together.
“You would think they would have worked this out,” Grimson said, adding that the setup could inconvenience library users.
Cumberland County government considered closing its library this year and in 2011 as a cost-saving measure. The county library’s budget is about $800,000. The county paid for its own library operations and the CLUES-linked system for that facility and the three municipal libraries.
In 2011, the Cumberland County Board of Chosen Freeholders dropped plans to close the county library after getting significant public opposition to the proposal. The library remained open, but some hours were slashed, new fees were added, some existing fees were increased, and bookmobile service was ended.
The freeholders considered closing the library again this year.
A volunteer committee charged with finding ways of significantly cutting county library costs and services gave a report in February that surprised the freeholders.
The committee made no recommendations. Its members instead reminded the freeholders that closing the county library would end services the facility shares with municipal libraries in Bridgeton, Millville and Vineland. Committee members also said that many county residents depend on the library for services they simply cannot afford.
The freeholders opted to keep the county library open.
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