By STEVEN NALLEY
The year was 1997, and both Mississippi State University and Mississippi University for Women were in need of an upgrade for their online systems.
Stephen Cunetto, MSU Library Systems administrator, said it made sense for the two universities to share one online system instead of both of them buying systems of their own. Thus, what was then known as the Golden Triangle Regional Library Consortium was born.
“It proved to work very well for us, so we thought we should open it up to other libraries in the area,” Cunetto said. “That’s when we were approached by Starkville High School, and we contracted with them to join our system. We then went to Tombigbee Library Regional System, the system based out of West Point. We were actually pretty stable at that point for several years. I think as the economy began to change and budgets became tighter, others began seeing the benefits of not only sharing a library automation system but also sharing library resources.”
Now known as the Mississippi Library Partnership, the consortium ensures that when students returning to school this week step into one of Starkville’s libraries, they have the combined might of 51 libraries at their disposal.
Cunetto said this number includes libraries in the East Mississippi Community College system, Kosciusko, Louisville, Columbus and more. This year, he said, the MLP added the First Regional Public Library System, a five-county system based in Hernando.
“The main benefit that we see (for) a Starkville student or teacher or community member is that they can search the Starkville Public Library’s catalog or Starkville High School catalog and (not only) find materials at that library but also find materials available in all 51 member library collections,” Cunetto said. “If their local library doesn’t have a copy of the title that they’re looking for, they would be able to borrow it from one of those other libraries.”
This applies not only to the libraries’ digital collections, Cunetto said, but also their physical collections. From within the MLP catalog, he said, students can place holds on another MLP library’s book and have it delivered to their local library, including the school library at SHS.
“It does usually take a week or two, and it certainly depends on availability,” Cunetto said. “It usually gets used quite a bit. The number of materials that are being requested through the system is very high.”
Ginny Holtcamp, Starkville Public Library director, said her library has always had an inter-library loan system to borrow materials from other libraries throughout the state, but the consortium has made inter-library loans smoother and easier. People request materials from other libraries daily, she said, and it’s especially useful to coordinate with the library’s neighbors in the Golden Triangle.
“It can help students the same way it helps all of us,” Holtcamp said. “If they were studying a particular title, then we would have a run on that title and probably a run on any resources about that book. This would give us an additional option to offer them. If a class is doing one particular book and we only have two copies of that book, we can borrow from Columbus or West Point and get maybe ten copies.”
Starkville High School librarian Terri Kennett said the MLP is especially popular among English students and seniors looking to write research papers. She also said MSU provides training throughout the year to help librarians understand the system’s nuances.
“The library support staff are very helpful and very good at helping us with any kinds of problems we might have, like online catalog problems or cataloguing books,” Kennett said. “That really helps to keep our library running smoother. They’re very good at keeping us updated.”
Also, Kennett said, when SHS students learn to use MLP’s online catalog and resources, they are adapting to the same system they will use if they attend college at MSU or EMCC. She said she believes this benefits the students’ education in the long term.
“It’s kind of a seamless transition,” Kennett said. “There’s not a learning curve.”
Another SHS librarian, Joy Dill, said even though the MSU library system is significantly larger than the SHS library, the two libraries’ relationship is mutually beneficial. In fact, she said, most of the SHS library’s inter-library loan traffic comes from other libraries requesting SHS books, and the requests often come from MSU.
“A lot of times, the books students are requesting from MSU are fiction books,” Dill said. “Like ‘The Hunger Games,’ for example, we were getting a lot of requests from students at MSU wanting to check it out from us.”