State library system vote prompts financial challenge for Nahant Library

Nahant Public Library Director Sharon Hawkes uses the MassCat system which links the resources of some Massachusetts libraries. (Spenser Hasak)

NAHANT — A vote taken by the executive board of the Massachusetts Library System could result in Nahant Public Library paying roughly $11,600 annually for online resources — more than 10 times the library’s current annual fee.

Nahant Public Library is currently a member of the Massachusetts Library System’s MassCat, a library consortium that provides an online resource-sharing database used by participating school districts and public libraries throughout the Commonwealth.

The library pays roughly $1,000 a year for its MassCat membership. In return, the consortium allows cardholders from participating libraries to access resources such as e-books and online catalogs from all consortium members.

Recently, MassCat libraries were sent a written notice that the consortium — as the result of a 2022 vote taken by the system’s executive board — will limit its membership to secondary schools and “special libraries committed to resource sharing.”

“Public and academic libraries are encouraged to join library networks tailored to their needs,” the notice read.

Library Director Sharon Hawkes said the system offered departing libraries a tiered-payment-assistance grant program to help ease the financial burden of switching to a new consortium. Still, Hawkes said, if Nahant Public Library switches to the North of Boston Library Exchange consortium, it will begin to pay approximately $11,600 annually after the four years of financial assistance from the program.

Hawkes said Nahant Public Library runs on a tight operational budget, cannot afford to join a larger consortium, and plans to stay with MassCat for as long as it can. However, since no new public libraries are permitted to join MassCat, Hawkes said the library could lose access to other libraries’ online collections.

“The board’s inclination is to not make the move at this time. Since the board of the Mass Library System is not allowing any other public libraries to join the network, it may at some point not be worth it to us to be in a network where we can’t access books from other libraries,” Hawkes said.

Three of MassCat’s 10 public libraries will move to different consortiums this summer. Hawkes said the Nahant Public Library Board of Trustees will reach out to the system to learn more about the library’s options.

Should Nahant Public Library leave the consortium, Hawkes said the trustees would have to push for a significant budget increase at Town Hall.

“It would mean speaking to Town Hall about the importance of moving to a different consortium and having Town Hall agree that there should be a commensurate increase in our operating budget,” Hawkes said.

More Stories From Nahant