Michigan eliminates Michicard program

Published 9:16 am Monday, January 13, 2014

Bookworms hoping to check out a novel or two on the road will no longer be able to use their Michicard to borrow from libraries outside their hometown, as the state has recently retired the two-decade old program.

The Library of Michigan eliminated the interlibrary borrowing system on Dec. 31. According to officials with the department, the state ended the program because it was quickly becoming obsolete in the face of the growing selection of works included in the Michigan eLibrary’s collections of shared resources, known as MeLCat.

“Michicard was yesterday’s news, so we just sort of sunsetted it,” said Sheryl Mase, the assistant director of the Library of Michigan. “We have works from more than 400 libraries on MeLCat, and a visiting patron program is already set up through the program.”

Mase said that the state has been steadily building up the MeLCat selection of works from participating Michigan libraries for nine years, and has slowing been adding borrowing features that matched those offered by the Michicard.

“For years and years, the issue of what to do with Michicard has been dangling out there,” Mase said. “Eventually we asked ourselves, ‘why don’t we just let it go.’”

The state founded the Michicard program in 1990 as a way for library patrons to borrow books and other materials from participating libraries across the state. In theory, all visitors had to do was present a library card with a Michicard sticker on it in order to check out literature from an out-of-town library.

The system didn’t always work that simply in reality, though, said Jacob Mumford, the director of the Dowagiac District Library.

“That was the face value of the program, and for a lot of people, it worked out that way,” Mumford said. “In practice, there were a lot of issues, and the program’s standards weren’t always followed.”

One issue was the fact that guidelines for receiving the Michicard sticker varied from library to library, Mumford said. The Dowagiac library, for instance, required that members applying for the sticker have an account in good standing for at least six months. However, other libraries had policies that were considerably different, Mumford said.

On the other end, libraries also differed in how they loaned materials to non-residents, the director said. Some, like the Dowagiac library, required them to become members of that library as well, while others would only permit them to take materials if they could provide proof of residency in the local area.

“From a patron’s perspective, it was kind of crummy, but on the backend these policies kind of made sense,” Mumford said.

While the state formally terminated Michicard at the end of last year, Mumford said the Dowagiac library stopped using it at the beginning of October. Ending the program internally hasn’t impacted the library’s operations, only around six visitors have attempted to borrow books using the Michicard system, Mumford said.

In the wake of Michicard’s demise, a group of state libraries have attempted to create a replacement interlibrary card that would function in a similar way. However, the director said Dowagiac won’t participate in that program.

“I would rather roll the dice under Michigan’s replacement,” he said.

Under MeLCat’s “visiting patron” program, which the local library is a member of, visitors can borrow materials from other participating libraries without prior approval from their home library. Instead, staff will check the account standing of visiting patrons before lending out materials, without the need for local registration.

While Mumford said MeLCat isn’t perfect, it provides an improvement over the borrowing experience provided by Michicard.

“The closer we can get to having everyone get access to information, the better,” he said. “We feel this new program is a step in the right direction.”

Nancy Studebaker, director of the Niles District Library, said thousands of people regularly used the Michicard program in Niles.

“For us a large number of our patrons were Michicard users I think because we are one of the larger libraries in the county and because we are close to the border of other libraries,” she said. “We have a lot of Cass County residents that live closer to our library than their own district library.”

Studebaker said the Niles District Library is allowing people to use the Michicard until September.

The library is also offering a discount on a library subscription through March. For $10, people can utilize all the resources at the library for the rest of the year. The one-year subscription normally costs $20.

“We want to help ease that transition,” she said.

The Niles District Library also offers the MeLCat program.