A County-Wide Conversation about Public Libraries
Libraries are an important asset to communities throughout Allegheny County. There are 45 independent public libraries that operate with a commitment to delivering outstanding service in a total of 70 locations across the County.
Library service across Allegheny County is generally well utilized and many communities provide strong support. At the same time, a number of important shifts are happening that will influence the future of local libraries, including:
- Increased competition for public funding at all levels;
- Changes to technology influencing the library service model;
- Changes to State Library Regulations;
- Increased/ongoing need for library service from underserved areas of the County; and
- Increased reliance of the community on the expertise and specialized skills of librarians to help library users discover and discern quality information in the Information Age overload.
The Allegheny County Library Association and Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh are initiating this opportunity for libraries in Allegheny County to proactively come together to consider and discuss these shifts, and to decide on the best path forward.
A Three Part Conversation
This page describes Part One of a three part conversation which libraries in Allegheny County are having with each other and with the communities they serve. The purpose of the conversation is to:
- Identify what we are collectively trying to achieve (including identifying an overall vision for all library services in the County that will best meet the needs of the public);
- Test ideas on how to achieve it (including how to structure and fund 21st Century library service); and
- Propose a path forward.
Changes are expected as a result of this process, and those changes will be driven by the needs of the public and library customers. There are no foregone conclusions at this point – discussion will focus on the kind of community we want, how library services can support that community, and what systems will get us there. Any changes will need to have a positive impact on the quality of life for people in our region.
What Are We Trying to Achieve?
Part One of this conversation is focusing on what libraries and communities are trying to achieve together for library service in the County. This includes a vision for the communities in which libraries work, and a vision for the services our libraries provide.
Here is an example of what a potential vision for our communities could include:
- We envision communities where everyone continues to learn and grow. This means that every child enters school ready to learn; every student succeeds in school with the support of out-of-school opportunities; and every adult has meaningful work and the skills needed to thrive.
- We also envision communities where everyone enjoys a full and rich life. This means that anyone can explore a broad range of interests; everyone feels connected and included; public services are easily accessed; and relevant and current information is always available.
Snapshot of the Connections between Local and County Library Services
Libraries in Allegheny County have been collaborating and cooperating in various ways for years. Each of the 45 independent library systems is uniquely structured, has a unique relationship with its local municipality/ies and a unique funding arrangement. In addition, there are three independent, yet connected, entities providing services to the 45 libraries in the County. The graphic below conceptually reflects the relationship between all of the libraries, and the text to the left describes the shared services provided by ACLA, CLP and the eiNetwork.
The Allegheny County Library Association (ACLA) as a federated library system provides direct services such as continuing education for staff and Boards, Youth Services coordination, Mobile Services delivery (bookmobiles), countywide fundraising initiatives, distribution of funds to libraries and monitoring contractual compliance, and countywide programming.
Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (CLP) is the District Library Center. District Library Centers receive funds from the State of Pennsylvania to support services to the local public libraries in their geographical areas. Locally, this support includes delivery services, interlibrary loan, teen services, consulting services and continuing education. CLP also is designated as one of only four state-wide resource centers in Pennsylvania that maintain a major research collection and are tasked with providing specialized materials and services to all Pennsylvania residents. CLP also has operational oversight for the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.
Libraries in Allegheny County receive just over $55 million in funding each year, with estimates that for for every $1 of public funding received libraries return over $3 - 6 to the local economy. ($3 return is from the Taxpayer Return-On-Investment in Pennsylvania Public Libraries, UNC School of Information and Library Science, September 2006, and $6 was estimated in Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Community Impact and Benefits, April 2006, Carnegie Mellon University Center for Economic Development)
What Ideas Do We Want to Explore?
There are many different ways that libraries could achieve the vision we collectively develop for our communities and library services. We want to explore a wide range of ideas and opportunities, without assuming the current library structure needs to persist into the future. For example:
- Look at whether it makes sense to achieve consistent policies and services across all libraries, and if so, how
- Consider what services are important to deliver locally, and which can be delivered centrally
- Figure out how we can make best use of librarians and their specially trained skills
Ideas received during Part One of the process will be compiled and brought back during Part Two of the process for review and discussion.
About the County-City Library Service Panel
A County-City Library Service Panel has been created to help guide the 21st Century Library Service decision-making process. The work of the Panel will be informed by the County’s 45 independent libraries as well as feedback received from communities across Pittsburgh and Allegheny County through a comprehensive community discussion process. The community process will be implemented from January to June 2014 and will be delivered by ACLA, CLP and the 44 other library systems with the support of an independent facilitation team.
The Panel will be chaired by Fred Thieman, President of the Buhl Foundation and consists of the following members:
- Four representatives appointed by the Allegheny County Library Association (Board members Tom Herward and Claire Shubik- Richards, and former Board members Leslie Britton and Marcia Taylor)
- Four appointed by the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (Board members Lafe Metz and Carol Robinson, former Board member Patrick Dowd, and Rick Pierchalski a former County Appointee to the Regional Asset District Board)
The Panel will be supported by staff from both ACLA and CLP, including Marilyn Jenkins (ACLA Director), Mary Frances Cooper (CLP President & Director), Karlyn Voss, Kimberley Hrivnak, Christy Fusco (Librarians Advisory Council Chair) and Diana Bucco (Buhl Foundation). The Panel will work from January to July 2014, meeting at least monthly. Sub-committees of the Task Force (if created) may have additional meetings.
The Panel will direct staff in the preparation of a written report for consideration by the Boards of ACLA and CLP, the other 44 library systems in the County, the Regional Asset District (RAD), elected officials and the general public. The report will document all aspects of the process, including all ideas considered and how those ideas reflect the feedback received.
A Three Part Process
The Library Service in the 21st Century decision-making process is happening in three parts, with community conversation a key component of each part. The graphic here illustrates the approximate timing and focus of each part of the process.
How Can You Get Involved?
A wide range of voices and perspectives are needed to make this community process work. PLEASE JOIN US in a rich discussion about how we can work together to ensure our public libraries remain strong, sustainable community assets. All responses received by Friday, February 14, 2014 will be included in our Part 1 Community Process Summary Report. Note that we will not be tracking who-said-what in this report – all answers will be reported in aggregate. Here’s how you can participate:
- Contact your local library to find out about local community meetings
- Complete the online feedback form
- Email your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org
- Drop off your written answers to the questions asked in the Discussion Guide at your local library
Do you know others that want to share their thoughts? Please forward them this website and/or host your own conversation with a small group or organization. Take notes on the discussion and please share them with us!