Libraries across the state of Maine, including the Raymond H. Fogler Library at the University of Maine, are now participating in a reciprocal lending program that allows library cardholders across the state to borrow library books from any of the participating libraries.

The program includes more than 70 of Maine’s libraries, including the Maine State Library, the Maine State Law and Legislative Reference Library and the Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center Hadley Parrot Health Science Library. 

The collaboration, which went into effect on Sept. 16, allows anyone with a valid library card, including student ID cards to check out books from any of the participating libraries around Maine.

All of the libraries in the University System have opted to participate in the program, which will make access to academic documents much easier to get for students and researchers alike.

Libraries around the state have been participating in the interlibrary loan system for a while now, but this program makes it much easier to get texts. Through the interlibrary loan, a person is able to request a book through their library by requesting it online. The requested text will then, if it is not on hold or checked out, be sent to that library and the library will inform the person that they are able to check out that text. However, the reciprocal borrowing program allows you to simply drive to a library near you, and as long as you have a valid library card, you will be able to check out the text in person. 

The program grew from an idea that was discussed at the Maine Library Association’s Fall Conference in 2018. At the conference, librarians from around the state expressed a strong desire for the development of cooperative programs that would strengthen library resources. After the conference, a working group identified libraries with the software systems necessary to facilitate reciprocal lending and started moving forward with a pilot program to test out how the program might work. 

“What really makes this work seamlessly is that the participating libraries are utilizing the same library system software,” James Jackson Sanborn, the director of Maine Infonet said. Maine Infonet is the organization that manages the library systems which makes this lending program possible. “The fact that the participating libraries all have library cards with a 14-digit barcode and the software is able to recognize a library card from a participating library makes this doable.” 

This program will create a larger scope of access to public, academic and special collections libraries.

Currently, the libraries that have chosen to participate in this program have to stay in the program for a year, and then the program will be reassessed to see how well it served the public. The hope is that in the future, more libraries will be able to implement the software needed and participate in the program. 

While the program will be beneficial to both library users and the libraries themselves, head librarians from around the state have discussed setting limits on how the system will be executed. This may extend to item limits, to cut down on the risk of potential issues and errors in how the system processes checked out materials.

“It’s essential work and we believe good things happen when we can break down barriers to sharing library resources,” Sanborn noted.