(This story has been updated to clarify the overall staffing numbers for Amigos.)
Amigos Library Services, a library membership organization based in Dallas, and the Missouri Library Network Corporation (MLNC), a similar St. Louis-based library membership organization, have entered into a working agreement to explore merging operations.
If the organizations merge, it would operate under the Amigos name and constitute the largest library consortium west of the Mississippi River, with approximately 1,000 libraries and cultural heritage institutions in 22 states, the organizations said in a joint statement. Both membership bases include academic, public, school, and special libraries.
MLNC’s 11-member board and Amigos’s 12-member board unanimously approved the working agreement on January 24. The membership of the two organizations are scheduled to vote on the plan by mid-April or early May, and if the plan is approved the merger should be completed by July 1.
“This is the best long-term development for the members as it enhances and increases the services that members will have access to,” said Tracy Rochow Byerly, the executive director of MLNC, which was founded in 1981 and has over 300 members in the Midwest region. It recently added libraries in Nebraska and Kansas and has a longstanding relationship with libraries in Illinois.
“Members will have a wider choice of vendors for electronic resources and library supplies. We will also be able to offer a wider variety and type of workshops and other professional development opportunities,” Byerly said.
MLNC provides its members OCLC-based information services, related electronic services and content, and training in the management and use of information. It also provides discounts on library-related products and services, such as databases.
The 35-year-old Amigos consortium has four staff members working remotely in Austin and Arlington, Texas, and the organization plans to maintain a strong presence in Missouri, including a facility in the St. Louis area, according to Bonnie Juergens, the president and chief executive officer of Amigos.
“Staff from MLNC who will join the Amigos staff will have the option to remain in Missouri, and will serve the combined membership from there,” Juergens said. MLNC has a staff of five.
[UPDATE] Overall, Amigos employs approximately 30 staff members, most of whom work at the Dallas headquarters. Juergens said she was confident that the St. Louis-based MLNC staff can be easily integrated into the operation just as the workers in Austin and Arlington are.
“Collectively, we will form a cohesive but larger team ready to meet the needs of all our member libraries,” Juergens said.
Juergens agreed that the larger organization will offer economies of scale for leveraging and expanding library resources.
“Overall, Amigos will be a stronger organization,” she said.
Both networks derive their operating revenue from membership dues, service fees, workshop registrations and interest in investment income, but cuts to library budgets can make it more difficult for libraries to participate in collaborative efforts that they need more than ever.
“We are a long-standing, strong partner of the state libraries in our region. Funding that affects state libraries also affects the ability of some libraries to participate in Amigos programs,” said Juergens. Texas last year sharply reduced state funding for libraries.
“On the other hand, libraries hit hard by funding cuts depend even more on collaboration and access to discounts, which is a reminder that networks help members perhaps even more in times of stress than in ‘normal’ times. And we haven’t seen ‘normal’ for quite some time now,” Juergens said.
Amigos was formed as a multi-state network encompassing Arizona, Arkansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. Its membership has subsequently expanded to include over 600 members in 20 states.
In exploring the possibility of a merger, the organizations analyzed the complementary nature of some services and the uniqueness of others as well as existing affinities, such as geography.
“I couldn’t be more pleased about this announcement,” Byerly said.