KC area libraries looking to expand offerings with partnership

Johnson County library officials are looking to partner in significant ways with other metro libraries over the next year, including inter-system catalog searches and library cards.

County Librarian Sean Casserley briefed the library board Thursday on a plan to work with the Kansas City Public Library and Mid-Continent Public library on a system that would allow users to search all three library’s catalogs at the same time. “We’re just beginning to discuss if this is possible,” Casserley said.

Crosby Kemper, executive director of the Kansas City Public Library, said in a phone interview that metro libraries had been partnering together for some time with events like areawide reading programs. He said this plan was another way to strengthen those partnerships.

“We want libraries to be a good example to rest of the community on how we can collaborate across boundaries,” he said.

Kemper said metro libraries have been talking about a unified catalog search for many years, but the only boundary has been SirsiDynix, the library software system all metro libraries use.

“They told use three or four times they were ready to go and could combine systems, but so far they haven’t been able to do that,” he said.

Kemper said the libraries are looking for other companies that could provide the unified search. Both Casserley and Kemper said the plan is to have software that simultaneously searches all the metro libraries for a book, DVD or whatever material a user is seeking. The user can the place the item on hold or request to have delivered to a library of their choice.

“If a best seller wasn’t available here (at Johnson County), they could search for it and find it at a library in Missouri,” Casserley said.

Kemper said the libraries currently share books through the interlibrary loan system, but he said that system is more complicated than having a unified catalog.

Another aspect of the plan is the possibility of having an areawide library card. Kemper said library cards would have a logo that would be recognized at any of the libraries in the program.

He said that so far, the Mid-Continent Library, Kansas City Public Library and Johnson County Library had agreed to look into the plan, but Kansas City Kansas Public Library had not yet agreed.

Kemper said the libraries would probably make a decision by June and could have the system in place within a year. He said there could be marginal implementation costs in setting up the unified catalog, but overall the project would not be a financial burden.

He said he would like the cooperation to extend to the Kansas City Library’s eBook collection, which extends to 9,500 titles, compared with more than 4,000 in Johnson County’s collection.

EBooks are fairly complicated because of restrictions the publisher places on the number of checkouts but the goal is for the eBooks be included, he said.

“We want the maximum accessibility to the maximum number of people,” Kemper said.

Jennifer Mahnken, associate director for branch services for Johnson County Library, told the board last week that in the last month librarians have answered more than 1,000 questions regarding eBooks, mostly from people wanting to know how to download the eBook application.

“Overall we feel very good about the service,” Mahnken said. “We’ve had a very high success rate helping people download the application.”

Mahnken said the library has an average of three copies for each of its more than 4,000 unique titles. Currently readers can check out three eBooks at a time for a maximum of two weeks.