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Link+: Tastiest Book Sharing in the Free World

I was shamed into this post yesterday at the Mountain View Public Library. While the guy at the circ desk boinked my books under the barcode reader, he asked, “So Link Plus, it’s good, huh?” Oh yeah, I said. “We can get you books from all over, at no cost to you,” he added very meaningfully.

“It’s really, really, really good,” I said. I was a little sheepish. I had been so agog with the latest pile of books I was about to nab that I hadn’t sufficiently oozed over this great service. But I was proud that he poked me into a properly enthusiastic response.

Link+ is a book-sharing consortium in California and Nevada. Its members include some private colleges and universities (including University of San Francisco, which I attend fall and spring), some public libraries, and a couple of forward-thinking UC campuses. I found out about Link+ when I went into a local library to request books by interlibrary loan and was told it would cost me something like $7 an item, and they would have to process the loan–or I could get a card from Mountain View Public Library and get books for free from Link+.

Maybe if I had one or two books to ILL, I wouldn’t have bothered. But I’m deep, deep into scholarship these days. Piles of books deep. I can’t afford to pay $7 for every interlibrary loan. At those rates, it’s not a loan, it’s a rental.

How fast is Link+? Searching the system is a flash, and requesting the book is only hard if you can’t spell your name or type your library card number. They pick the library for you–I assume by nearest available holding.

As for deliver, the first time I requested books through Link+, I assumed they would take two to three weeks, since they were coming from all over two states. I had all the books within five days, so fast that I was able to push up my writing schedule on an essay I really wanted to get started on.

Libraries who speculate that they might not get their materials back should look at the Link+ track record and their policies. Link+ makes sure it gets its books back. The fines are a dollar a day, and it’s very expensive to lose a Link+ book. Last night the Link+ system cut me off, because, it turns out, I have 15 books either here, in transit, or on their way back. Fair enough!

Link+ doesn’t replace a good, well-groomed collection. I only say that because I learned that a local group has made that claim. In lieu of a local PL buying more books, they suggested, the PL could join Link+. As good as Link+ is, most library circ is in popular materials.

But Link+ is powerfully good at supporting academic lifelong scholarship through cooperative sharing of items that not every library can or should buy. From Link+ I’ve been able to read bibliographies of women and the military, nineteenth-century Army cooking guides, and current scholarship in areas such as military jargon. Because of Link+ I know what kind of bullets a musket used. Not only that, but as long as I continue living near a public library with Link+ access, when I graduate from University of San Francisco next year I won’t lose access to scholarly or hard-to-get materials.

Frankly, Link+ may well influence where our next home is. I have felt since I moved to Northern California that public library service here just wasn’t up to what it was in New York. I’ve heard all kinds of reasons for why that is, but no matter what, I feel that often the books, the databases, the services, and the facilities aren’t up to what you would expect for an area this well-off. I still feel that way in general, but a few library experiences, including Link+ , have a way of turning my head. I won’t give it up lightly.

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