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Grand Forks, UND libraries should talk

In the 1990s, the public library of San Jose, Calif., and the nearby library of San Jose State University both had aging buildings that needed to be replaced. Such a problem is common among American libraries these days.

But the solution that the San Jose libraries came up with is one of a kind.

In 1997, San Jose’s mayor and San Jose State’s president announced that the libraries would be joining forces on a new, shared building. The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library was the result. Opened in 2003, the eight-story library is the largest library building west of the Mississippi River, as well as a unique partnership between the city and the university.

For the library is both the city’s central library and the main library of San Jose State. The partnership makes the university’s academic collections available to the public, the city’s California Room and other special collections available to students, and a larger facility than either entity could have built on its own available to all.

In 2004, the King library was named Library Journal’s Library of the Year.

So, what does all this have to do with Grand Forks?

Maybe nothing.

Then again, maybe something:

As every resident knows, the Grand Forks Public Library itself occupies an aging and hard-to-maintain building, one that the city has thought hard about replacing.

But in recent weeks, the Chester Fritz Library at UND was revealed to have its share of problems, too.

The UND library “will definitely lose $300,000 in funds they’ve been privy to for the last three years,” Herald staff writer Anna Burleson reported.

“Another $210,000 will be lost for the upcoming school year, but will be re-allocated to the library in the following years.”

Those are significant sums for a library whose operational costs run upward of $2.9 million a year. And the financial picture isn’t likely to improve any time soon.

“So, the university is taking this opportunity to reassess what students and faculty want from the library,” Burleson noted.

And suddenly, the example of the King library in San Jose seems relevant after all.

Is this a call for the Grand Forks libraries to merge? No. But it’s certainly a suggestion that as the two libraries ponder their futures, their leaders should talk with each other to see whether there are resources, projects or even facilities that can be shared.

After all, there probably are joint efforts that can deliver efficiencies while stopping short of the “full San Jose.” For example, Carleton College and St. Olaf College, historic rivals located across Northfield, Minn., from each other, won a $1.4 million Mellon Foundation grant in December to explore new collaborations. The colleges’ libraries are sure to benefit: “Among the planned projects for the libraries is a single shared research portal,” an enhanced website that’ll mean fewer trips to the University of Minnesota library for students, Carleton’s alumni magazine reports.

Given that the Grand Forks library and the UND library both are exploring their options, it simply makes sense to do some of that exploring together. Great things could happen — and so, if they haven’t done so already, leaders and committees should schedule a few meetings with their kindred spirits across town.