In 1977, the state Library of Michigan established 14 regional cooperatives to administer programs that allocate state aid to libraries. In addition, historically, the cooperatives have enabled public libraries to guarantee citizens access to information by providing services that can be delivered more efficiently by a larger organization. Examples of such services include group purchasing, central processing, or coordination of interlibrary loan. The Mid-Peninsula Library Cooperative (Mid-Pen) serves six counties in the rural Upper Peninsula of northern Michigan (http://blue.up.lib.mi.us/midpen/home.html). The constituents for Mid-Pen are the 13 public libraries in this large and sparsely populated area. The Mid-Pen member libraries together serve 129,667 people in an area larger than the state of Connecticut. The 13 libraries are located in communities that range in population from 2,000 to 15,000. The area is noted for lumbering, mining, and both summer and winter tourism. Communities are geographically dispersed, and harsh winter weather further isolates individuals from each other, heightening the need for alternative communications media.
At the Mid-Peninsula Regional Library Cooperative, important leadership changes have taken place since Council staff members visited in July 1996. Gary Silver, the Mid-Pen director, resigned in mid-July, and Mary Cary of the Escanaba Public Library has been serving as the acting director while the search for a new director proceeds. In this case study we have chosen to present our snapshot of Mid-Pen as it was taken at the time of the Council’s staff visit.
In July, Silver described the primary functions of a regional cooperative in Michigan today: to nurture local libraries, funnel state funds to them, provide technical support, and train library staff. Over the last ten years, Mid-Pen has evolved from a cooperative that served small, non-automated libraries, primarily through interlibrary loan and reference services, into one of the most technically advanced cooperatives in Michigan in its support of libraries’ automated services. It continues to offer reference and interlibrary loan services, as well as printing, discount purchasing, continuing education classes, books by mail, and the reprinting of local history books. But since 1994, the mission of Mid-Pen has expanded to include developing the information infrastructure of the region. This has allowed Mid-Pen to offer fee-based Internet services directly to the public, generating income to expand free public services in member libraries.
The cooperative is governed by a nine-member board of community members. Librarians from member libraries serve on a separate administrative council which advises the board and the director. In 1995-96, the cooperative derived 47 percent of its income from the state, 51 percent from federal sources, and 2 percent from contracts. Mid-Pen does not receive funds directly from the cities and counties it serves, but it does receive fees from member libraries for certain contract services, such as printing flyers and brochures. The cooperative itself does not serve the public directly as a library, but rather is a service agency that supports libraries. In 1995-96, the staff of the cooperative supported member libraries by circulating 9,210 items from its professional collection of 10,000 volumes, and answering 933 reference questions.
The Mid-Pen libraries themselves are funded in various ways. Each receives state funds of roughly $.45 per capita and local penal funds (all fines received in their jurisdiction). In addition, some cities, townships, and counties impose a tax based on property values. Regional cooperatives in Michigan, like Mid-Pen, allocate state and federal aid to level the resources available to public libraries.