The Pony Express for Libraries

Did you know that our library can borrow books from other libraries through the statewide interlibrary loan system?  This means we can usually get the book you want even if we don’t have it ourselves and aren’t planning to purchase it for our collection.  We’ve done this for years.  When I first started at our library, we had to fill out a form with the name of the requested book and mail that form to our state library district consultant’s office in Cedar Rapids.  They would order it from their database of libraries and the requested book would come to us through the mail.  The method of requesting the books got more sophisticated as Iowa libraries got access to the internet, but for many years we relied on the U.S. postal service to deliver the books. 

In January of 2020, the IA Shares delivery service was launched by the State Library of Iowa.  At no charge to individual libraries, IA Shares provides a method of sending and receiving library materials twice a week to every public library in Iowa.   Each route begins at the hub in the morning, where items out for delivery are picked up.  The driver makes the stops along the route, dropping off a tote of items to be sent to other public libraries.  With a complex system of seven hubs and 35 routes (with 15 – 25 libraries on each route), there are bound to be vehicle breakdowns, weather related delays, and other snags--not to mention the problems caused by library closings during COVID--but the books usually come through and get to their readers.  It reminds us of all the Wells Fargo stagecoaches, Pony Express riders and horseback librarians of the past. 

We look forward to our driver coming into our library at the end of the day on Mondays and Thursdays, bringing us a cheery blue tote full of blue nylon zippered bags.  We give the driver the books we need to return and also the books we are loaning to other libraries.  It seems like Christmas when we open up the bags, each containing a book from one of Iowa’s 543 public libraries.  We love sorting out the books according to who ordered what and letting our patrons know their books are here at our library.  We also love this well-organized system that allows libraries to share their materials, making our little library so much bigger without costing us anything.