Interlibrary loans are slowly but surely coming back

Photo by Daniel Jackovino Library directors Jennifer Breuer, of Glen Ridge, left, and Holly Belli, of Bloomfield, will welcome the return of the interlibrary loan program.

GLEN RIDGE, NJ — Jennifer Breuer and Holly Belli, the Glen Ridge and Bloomfield public library directors, respectively, explained last week the reasons why there have been no interlibrary services since the end of last year. Because of the lack of service, both libraries, and many others, stopped accepting requests for interlibrary loans. Breuer and Belli spoke last week during an interview at the Glen Ridge Library. At the time, they said the suspension of requests and deliveries should end in another two weeks.

According to both directors, the state funds book deliveries through LibraryLinkNJ. LLNJ contracted Expak, a new vendor for this year, to provide the service. Expak then subcontracted the deliveries to two companies.

To prepare for this change-over, Glen Ridge and Bloomfield libraries, and others, stopped taking loan requests.
“There was a transition period at the end of 2017 and at that time BCCLS made a decision,” Belli said.
“The decision was to put deliveries on hiatus to assist in the transition,” Breuer said, finishing the thought.

BCCLS — the Bergen County Cooperative Library System, pronounced “buckles” — is a group of 76 northern New Jersey libraries that loans materials to its pool of library card holders. Glen Ridge and Bloomfield public libraries belong to BCCLS.
Breuer said the subcontractors hired by Expak withdrew from their agreement.

“The loss of the subcontractors set all this in motion,” she said. “Northern NJ is a disproportionate user of deliveries because we have municipal libraries instead of county libraries.”

Both directors were unaware the subcontractors withdrew in mid-December. Belli said that was not an issue.
“We very quickly realized books weren’t being picked up and there were no deliveries,” Breuer said.

BCCLS had 82,000 library items in a Rockaway warehouse when it decided to stop deliveries late last year. Both Breuer and Belli said the warehouse is now almost cleared and the system is getting to where it can slowly start up again. Expak has been moving the items, but it gave LLNL notice it is withdrawing from its contract at the end of May.

Belli said Bloomfield had 900 items waiting to be returned, but that has been decreased to 200 items. Breuer said Glen Ridge also had 900 items out, and that is now 100 items. Once they are given the OK to resume interlibrary loans, both directors said they will reintroduce the service slowly and see if Expak can handle the load.

But when things were bad, Breuker and Belli made the best of it. While delivery service was stopped, the items belonging to other libraries that could not be returned were placed in a small collection by themselves from which patrons could borrow. And some library directors personally exchanged books when they met.

“We thought the problem was a bump in the road,” Breuer said. “When it was seen as bigger, this was not a sustainable model.”
Kathy Schalk-Greene, the executive director of LLNJ, said in an Feb 16 email to the Independent Press that LLNJ was unaware of the changes between Expak and its subcontractors. LibraryLinkNJ provides delivery services to more than 400 libraries.

“After 30 years of reliable service to the community, we were angered by the situation and disappointed that the libraries we serve were let down,” Schalk-Greene said.

Breuer and Belli agreed they did not like being unable to provide a service to their patrons and chalk up the recent difficulties as a learning experience.