An appeals board has upheld the Maine State Library’s selection of a new out-of-state company to deliver interlibrary loan materials. This clears the way for book distribution between hundreds of libraries throughout the state to resume, but it’s not clear how soon that will happen.

Libraries were notified in June that the popular interlibrary loan service, which allows people to borrow materials from other libraries outside of their hometown, would be suspended while the state heard an appeal from Freedom Xpress Inc., the Brewer-based company that held the delivery contract for 12 years but was not chosen for the new contract.

Freedom Xpress President Mark Osgood said in a phone interview Wednesday that he was “highly disappointed” that his company was not awarded the contract, which forced him to lay off eight employees.

“We were shocked, to say the least, when our bid was almost $1 million less, that the state went with an unknown entity in the state of Maine,” Osgood said.

STAT Courier, a national library courier company based in Missouri, was selected from four bids through the competitive request for proposals process to take over delivery, starting in July.

While the appeal was underway, the state library could not sign a contract, but was able to start final negotiations to limit the amount of time the service would be suspended, according to the Department of Administrative and Financial Services. 

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Maine State Librarian Lori Fisher said in an email Wednesday that the parties are finalizing the contract, which then has to go through a few levels of state review. She said she does not have an estimated date for when the delivery service will resume.

Kevin Davis, director of the South Portland Public Library, said a representative from STAT Courier visited his and other libraries this week as they prepare to restart service. He said he has not been told when deliveries will start.

A person looks at books June 5 inside the Waterville Public Library. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel

“They’re working out their logistics at this point,” he said. “We’re feeling optimistic that it will be within a month or a month and a half.”

The last RFP for the library service was in 2019 and the bid from Freedom Xpress Inc. was the only one received. The contract was set to end on June 30, 2023, but was extended for one more year because the library had hired a new state librarian in late 2022.

THE APPEAL

Osgood said he filed the appeal because he wanted to know why STAT Courier was awarded the contract, but he didn’t get clear answers during the appeals process.

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The RFP process does not require the contract be awarded to the lowest bidder. The bids are scored based on cost, qualifications and experience, and scope of service and implementation. Osgood said STAT Courier’s bid was scored seven points higher than his.

According to information posted on the state library’s website, STAT Courier was chosen because it provides a dedicated service – its trucks, drivers and sorters deal with library materials only – with no additional stops for other types of deliveries. The company has three sorting hubs in Maine with a process to shuttle materials between them to help with efficiency. STAT Courier also offers 24/7 customer service and will ask libraries for feedback every year to improve the service.

A representative of STAT Courier did not respond to a request to talk about the contract and the library courier services it will run in Maine. The company previously worked with the Veterans Administration Maine Health Care System for 10 years.

In their application for the bid, company representatives said STAT Courier has 17 years of experience running library courier programs, including one in Georgia that serves 130 libraries.

“We will treat your materials with respect and not as commodity items, ensuring each and every library item is delivered in a timely manner and with care ensuring service remains consistent and reliable with our back-up driver contingency plans,” they wrote.

Davis, from the South Portland library, said everyone is eager for the statewide interlibrary loan service to resume. In the meantime, the library teamed up with eight other libraries in the area to offer a smaller version of interlibrary loans that they’ve dubbed “Mini-ME.” Library patrons have told him they appreciate being able to borrow books from those libraries this summer, he said.

“We’re happy to have something going on and know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel with full service resuming soon,” he said.

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