One Island, one card: Islandwide CLAMS a blessing for readers


The Island literary world just got bigger. Way bigger.

Our three up-Island libraries will be live on the CLAMS (Cape Libraries Automated System) network before the crocuses appear.

Based in Hyannis, CLAMS is one of a group of library networks around the Commonwealth that has state funding from the Massachusetts Library System to provide greater access and more resources for reading, researching, and literacy support.

On January 14, the West Tisbury Free Public Library went live as a CLAMS member, joining current members Oak Bluffs, Vineyard Haven, and Edgartown, to provide library users with access to more than 1.5 million volumes residing in 35 Cape and Islands libraries. The Chilmark and Aquinnah libraries will be online by early March.

What all that means to us is literacy luxury. Note these benefits:

– One library card, good anywhere on the Cape and Islands.

– Pick-up and drop-off at the Island library closest to you.

– Manage your account online: Order online, browse online, renew online — welcome news during winter frosties and in summer gridlock.

– In addition to hard-bound volumes, the CLAMS consortium includes more than 5,000 e-book titles, access to music collections, and to an array of top-of-the-line research data on a variety of arts and sciences.

Certainly individual Island libraries have all of the above in their collections, but the ability to instantly access a catalog with geometrically greater offerings should be a boon to Island students and those of us who’ve been maybe dying to know about the history of reverse-painting on glass.

Here’s a comparison. The Aquinnah Library has about 8,000 books. Now it will have 5,000 e-books and access to more than 1.5 million bound volumes, plenty of resources for a town with fewer than 350 registered voters.

The addition of e-books has added to traditional book circulation, according to the records at the Edgartown Library, a longtime CLAMS member. “Our e-book circulation last year was up nearly 500 percent and our regular book circulation stayed just about even,” new director Jill Hughes said last week.

CLAMS has been around for more than 20 years and the down-Island libraries have been on board for at least a decade, so what took so long up Island? Another example of Island independent thinking?

No, no, no. It was about the money, noted Ebba Hierta, director of the Chilmark Library. “No, it had nothing to do with with rugged individualism,” she said. “CLAMS recalibrated their fee structure in 2011 and made membership affordable for smaller libraries to join. The [Chilmark] Friends of the Library donated our initial membership costs.

“The old fee structure would have been three times as expensive and I couldn’t honestly make the case [for membership] to the town. CLAMS new leadership under Gayle Simundza has made positive, inclusive changes.

“CLAMS membership will cost us about $15,000 a year under the new fee structure,” Ms. Hierta said. “We get training on the system. They catalog and upload our collection on the CLAMS platform collection. They handle upgrades to the system.

“A key benefit is that we can manage the system, see what’s already available so we can be much more efficient in what we buy for our own collection. We also get a benefit in our buying power with bulk CLAMS discounts with publishers and supply vendors.

“Once I knew it was something I could endorse, we engaged in a public education program. You know, we needed new system software anyway, and we wanted to get into e-books that our patrons really were calling for. The investment for two things alone would have cost more than joining CLAMS and we get both as part of membership.”

Ms. Hierta and Beth Kramer, West Tisbury’s chief librarian, are busily registering patrons for new CLAMS cards. But there’s no need to queue up in Aquinnah. “We can handle our patrons on a one-to-one basis as they come in,” new librarian Lisa Sherman said. New CLAMS cardholders register in person to obtain a personal PIN number allowing access to the CLAMS system.

The arrival of CLAMS Island-wide is a signature move that is part of a clear trend to a more vigorous library system here with brisk new leaders and new library construction, and it seems libraries are becoming cool again.

I mean, dude, CLAMS has its own mobile app.