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October 8 is the date to defend local libraries

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ďWhat we really donít know right now is what participation weíll have at the commission forum,Ē said Westchester Public Libary Board president Karen Nash on Sunday.

The Library Board has set a special meeting for Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Thomas Library, in part to discuss a planned Oct. 8 public input session in Gary sponsored by the Indiana Commission on Local Government Reform.

The commission is a blue-ribbon group asked to provide the governor and the Indiana General Assembly by Dec. 31 with recommendations to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of Hoosier government, including libraries and schools, and to reduce governmentís cost to taxpayers

Consolidation of services where feasible is a focus of the commissionís study. WPL supporters and board members fear WPL might be vulnerable because it is a township-based library system and there has been an increasing push in Indianapolis to do away with the township layer of government.

Under a consolidation, the most likely scenario would be requiring WPL to merge with the Porter County Library system.

The commissionís only local public forum will be Oct. 8 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Savannah Center gymnasium on 33rd Avenue at Indiana University Northwest in Gary; free parking will be available. Seating is limited to about 200 persons so pre-registration is recommended by calling 317-261-3025 or by emailing to

Like WPL, Lowell, Crown Point, East Chicago, Whiting, Hammond and Gary all have individual area library systems in addition to the Lake County Public Library system.

The Westchester Library Board met Sept. 20 to develop a plan to raise public awareness regarding the Reform Commissionís ongoing study. Nash said that planning will continue Wednesday.

Because the Oct. 8 forum will offer public input through moderated, small-group discussions, Nash said the Library Board has to determine if thatís the best way to get its message across to the commission.

Jamie L. Palmer, a senior policy analyst with Indiana Universityís Center for Urban Policy and the Environment in Indianapolis, is helping facilitate the commissionís work. She said the questions for each small-group discussion are being developed now and are not structured specifically by type of local government.

Palmer also said the forum will be hosted by commission staff although a few actual commission members will be in attendance at each forum; in addition to Gary, input sessions are scheduled in Fort Wayne, New Albany and Franklin. The commission was formed in July and is co-chaired by former Gov. Joe Kernan and Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall Shepard.

Commission staff has been meeting with a number of statewide trade groups including groups representing school and library interests to gather information, according to Palmer. When asked to do so she did not identify the trade groups consulted or the local governments represented. She did say staff has requested geographic diversity to make sure the commission is hearing about the different circumstances from around the state.

She emphasized that specific local governments not covered by the staff interview process are welcome to submit written comments or to attend the public forums and provide their views.

The WPL board has asked supporters here to join the Friends of the Library so a database to contact them is generated. Letters to the board in support of the WPL system are welcome, said Nash, to be used as personal testimony that can be submitted to the commission. Letters may be addressed to the board in care of Thomas Library, 200 W. Indiana Ave., Chesterton, IN 46304.

Nash also encouraged library supporters to attend Wednesdayís planning meeting at Thomas.

The Library Board intends to issue a public statement soon outlining its position on the consolidation threat. Library director Phil Baugher has said continued local control of WPLís programming and the operation of its four current facilities including the Westchester Township History Museum could be jeopardized by consolidation.

WPLís Hageman Library is located in the town of Porter. Last week member Jennifer Granat urged the Town Council there to discuss supporting the Library Boardís desire to save WPLís status as an independent library system.

This month the Reform Commission will be gathering input, and in November and December begin reviewing it and forming its recommendations. The process includes researching current local government structure, previous reform efforts, past studies and best practices from other states.

More information is available at


Posted 10/1/2007


Posted 10/1/2007






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