Contract dispute between van delivery vendors behind the delay

What the disruption of the Maine interlibrary loan system means for you

Fri, 06/07/2024 - 10:15pm

    MAINE—On Tuesday, June 4, libraries around the state put out notices on their websites and social media platforms informing patrons that the Interlibrary Loan delivery service had been disrupted and that Maine InfoNet announced that the van delivery service between libraries was halted immediately.

    This invaluable service, as reported in a 2020 PenBay Pilot story, gave thousands of people around the state nearly 70 times the borrowing power of their local library card. By using the Interlibrary Loan Service, a patron could reserve items through Maine InfoNet’s multiple shared library systems from nearly 68 public libraries statewide and van delivery often brought those items to the patron’s home library within a week. Within two years, more libraries joined and the van service provided delivery to more than 200 libraries of all types across the state. 

    This service was particularly useful for young and low-income residents (who couldn’t afford the cost of a library card in the tonier towns which could be as high as $50 a year) and for college and graduate students, because Colby, Bates, and Bowdoin were all participating, as well.

    Maine State Librarian (MSL) Lori Fisher declined to comment citing pending litigation.

    “This is a very important service to libraries all over the state and Camden alone borrows and loans some 2,500 items each month," former Camden Public Library Executive Director Nikki Maounis told PenBay Pilot. "This is the kind of service that library users really value in our fast-paced world.”

    Steve Norman, of the Belfast Free Library told PenBayPilot, “We send out and receive 30,000 items a year and it’s a big part of our service here. Our patrons will definitely lament the loss of this service for as long as it lasts.” Norman added, “While this affects anyone who uses this service, youngsters are especially affected when they’re looking for a complete series of a book. There are a lot of young adult books that we get from other libraries.”

    The only information on what’s happening can be found on MSL’s website.

    For statewide van delivery service to occur, the state had to issue an RFP (Request for Proposal)–essentially, a competitive bidding process– to potential van delivery vendors to ensure any purchase of services was done so in “open competition.” This RFP was put out on 3/26/2024 as the current contract was set to expire on 6/30/2024.

    According to MSL, The state awarded STAT Courier the conditional award of the RFP for statewide van delivery service for 2025. However, an unsuccessful bidder filed a “Stay and an Appeal.” As for the identity of the business filing the appeal, MSL’s “Attorney General Liaison has advised MSL to not discuss who filed the Stay and Appeal.” However, on MSL’s website, a master scoresheet of the four bidders was listed.

    MSL further stated on its website that it cannot enter into a contract with STAT Courier until the appeal process is completed. The appeal hearing has been scheduled for 6/12/24.

    How long will it take for service to resume?

    Whereas some libraries such as the Rockland Public Library predicted on their Facebook page that “the situation would last more than a month,” MSL’s website FAQs stated: “It is unknown at this time how much of a gap in service there will be, due to the ongoing appeal process. This makes it virtually impossible to create a firm timeline and work out all aspects of a plan in advance for how to address a gap in service.”

    On the Interlibrary Loan FAQ, MSL stated: “We do not currently have firm dates for the length of this interruption, but we expect that there will be no delivery for at least six weeks this summer, starting on July 1.”

    What patrons can still do

    Patrons will still be able to request and place holds on locally owned items, but will not be able to request materials from other libraries.

    However, any Maine library that is a member of the Maine Reciprocal Borrowing Program can visit other libraries and check out materials in person, but also must return the materials at the same place. Most Midcoast libraries are on this reciprocal borrowing program.

    “This is a temporary interruption, the service will be back,” said Norman. “The absence of the interlibrary loan for the time being should remind every one of us just how important it is.”

    Kay Stephens can be reached at