Understanding the Arrowhead Library System (ONLINE EXCLUSIVE)

For more than 40 years, the Arrowhead Library System has been a boon for literacy in northeastern Minnesota. ALS, founded in 1966, is a federated regional public library system that serves St. Louis County and six surrounding ones (Carlton, Cook,...

For more than 40 years, the Arrowhead Library System has been a boon for literacy in northeastern Minnesota.

ALS, founded in 1966, is a federated regional public library system that serves St. Louis County and six surrounding ones (Carlton, Cook, Itasca, Koochiching, Lake and Lake of the Woods), resulting in a geographic service area of 17,000 square miles.

Jim Weikum, ALS's director for the last 16 years, explained that his organization has two general categories for services: ALS is responsible for delivering and/or coordinating public library service to the more than 130,000 residents of the region residing outside the 29 cities currently operating municipal public libraries (as in Duluth, Two Harbors, etc.). Concurrently, he said, ALS is responsible for coordinating services and activities among and between the 29 member public libraries, as well as between ALS members and libraries and regional organizations throughout the rest of the state.

To help area residents understand some of ALS's most popular services, including its mobile library (Bookmobile) and books-by-mail service (Mail-A-Book), Weikum graciously participated in an online Q-and-A with the Budgeteer.

Budgeteer: How does the Bookmobile fit into the ALS equation? Does it carry a certain variety of titles -- or is it just materials requested from the participating libraries?


Weikum: The Bookmobile has its own collection, with the focus being on popular, high-demand ("popular") titles, regional authors and subjects and children's materials. In addition to books, the Bookmobile carries videocassettes and DVDs, books on CD and books on cassette and music CDs. Items requested from other libraries generally comprises less than 5 percent of our circulation activity.

How does Mail-A-Book work? Doesn't shipping books get expensive?

The Mail-A-Book service is available to anyone who lives in our seven-county service area but does not reside within one of the 29 cities that already have a local public library. We do make exceptions for individuals who are homebound -- generally for medical or physical regions -- if the local library staff confirms their status for us. The primary focus of the Mail-A-Book collection has long been paperback books, to mitigate the size of packages and the postage expense. We mail items free to eligible customers. If the item is from the Mail-A-Book collection, we also provide return postage. If the item has been borrowed from another library, either within our service area or from elsewhere in Minnesota or the United States, the customer is responsible for providing their own return postage (they can also return items to the nearest ALS member library or to the ALS Bookmobile). The Mail-A-Book collection is primarily books, but also includes books on CD and books on cassette, DVDs and a collection of electronic books (e-books).

How has ALS evolved since you took over as director in '92? Is readership up/down? Have you noticed any trends concerning the prevalence of Internet options?

I could draft pages and pages of changes from the last 16 years. Not long after my arrival at ALS, the Internet became more broadly prevalent for the public, and ALS and our member libraries have tried to respond by providing electronic resources that meet the needs of our customers. I'm not convinced that readership has changed dramatically, but the public's expectations seem to be that more and more services will be available. That growth in demand is not always coupled with a comparable growth in financial resources. People want and need electronic resources and electronic access to library collections, but just as many people still want physical access to libraries and library collections.

Speaking of Internet options, do you think books and newspapers will become a thing of the past -- as far as casual reading is concerned -- in favor of reading via devices like Amazon's Kindle?

I don't presume to be able to predict the future of newspapers; my family subscribes to two daily papers, we get three Sunday papers and we subscribe to a local weekly newspaper. The demise of the book has been predicted over and over again for years, but those predictions continue to fall flat. The book is not going away anytime soon. Perhaps it is a generational thing. While I've not seen or handled a Kindle, I've heard very positive reviews. I noted earlier that we have some e-books in our Mail-A-Book collection. Perhaps I'm the wrong target audience because of my age, but I'm simply not interested in e-books -- although I'm a huge iPod fan for music! Most of our libraries are as busy as they've ever been, factoring in general population declines across northeastern Minnesota.

Personally -- I'm assuming you're an avid reader -- what kinds of books fill your free time?


I'm an avid reader in theory more than in practice. Most of the time I'm just too busy, although I read at least two daily newspapers and several magazines. I tend to rely more on audiobooks for my recreational "reading." I tend toward mysteries, but also enjoy many non-fiction titles.

Are there any local authors you really appreciate?

Since I rely so heavily on audiobooks, local and regional authors are not always well-represented. I listen to all of John Sandford's books, and I think he's still considered a "Minnesota author" even though he has a national presence. I had a chance to meet three Minnesota authors recently, William Kent Krueger, Carl Brookins and Ellen Hart, and they were a charming group.

Finally, I noticed on ALS's Web site that visitors can download audiobooks ... is this a free service? Can anyone download the books, or do you have to be a member of an area library?

ALS has absorbed the licensing costs for the downloadable collection on behalf of all member libraries, and we provide the funding for adding new titles. There are no fees for eligible users other than providing their own electronic media (PC or MP3 player) to store and listen to the titles. You need a valid library card from ALS or one of our member libraries, including Duluth. Also, you must be in good standing -- i.e. no significant accumulation of overdue fines or unpaid fees. We're excited that the vendor we're working with, OverDrive, has announced that iPod-compatible titles will become available by the end of this summer.

If you would like to know more about the Arrowhead Library System or its Bookmobile program, call 741-3840 or visit .

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