A Quiet Crisis: Libraries in Allegheny County … 25 Years Later

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December 13, 2016

 

In 1991, Frank Lucchino, then Controller of Allegheny County, issued a special report – “A Quiet Crisis: Libraries in Allegheny County.” This nearly 100-page report offered an in-depth discussion on the state of the libraries in Allegheny County and the problems each of the independent institutions faced.

With the “Information Age” emerging, libraries were struggling to keep up in providing residents with quick access to research materials and critical resources. Allegheny County also was ranked at the bottom for per capita dollars spent on libraries throughout the nation.

The report included recommendations in the form of 10 steps (outlined below) for better citizen access and to address several key challenges – insufficient funding, deteriorating facilities, a shift in population from the urban core, and increasing use of the independent suburban libraries.

The report concluded that Allegheny County’s libraries needed to identify a stable source of operating support and establish a broad based organization to take advantage of potential economies of scale. A Commission on the Future of Libraries in Allegheny County (CFLAC) was charged with addressing the recommendations in the report. Out of the Commission’s work, came the formation of the Allegheny County Library Association (ACLA).

Twenty-five years later, ACLA, with the cooperation of its 46 Member Libraries, has met the challenges identified in “A Quiet Crisis” in ways that couldn’t have been imagined in the early 90’s. Allegheny County’s libraries have many more resources at their disposal and are better positioned to meet the increased demand from residents for services in education and community enhancement.

While it is important to celebrate the success over the 25 years, ACLA and its Member Libraries will continue to face challenges as we move into the future. Constant changes in technology, pressure on the Allegheny Regional Asset District to fund a wider range of assets, the growing demands of residents for current information and new formats, and the continued need to diversify library funding are just a few issues that remain. However, the main foundation of county-wide cooperation has been established, allowing ACLA and its members to reach their goals.

 

Recommendations:

Ten Steps for Better Citizen Access

Improvements & Actions Taken by ACLA & its Member Libraries

1. Libraries must build citizen coalitions

Following up on “A Quiet Crisis,” citizens and supporters successfully advocated for library service to be recognized as a “regional asset.” The result – contractual funding from the Allegheny Regional Asset District for ACLA and the suburban libraries and for the technology infrastructure that connects the whole.

2. County Commissioners should appoint a library director

Under the direction of the County Library Administrator, libraries came together to establish ACLA. ACLA has employed a full time executive director to oversee its operations since 1999.

3. County should implement aid to independent libraries

Since the establishment of the Allegheny Regional Asset District nearly one- third of all RAD funds have been allocated to support libraries. Local government support has doubled since “A Quiet Crisis.” Libraries now receive proceeds from table gaming revenue. Private support from foundations and individual donors has also multiplied.

4. County should continue to support Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh as county-wide resource

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh serves as the District Library Center and County Library, and is also a contractual RAD asset.

5. County library federation should be initiated

There are now 46 Member Libraries, representing service in 73 locations.

6. County should promote inter-municipal cooperation

ACLA libraries freely share their resources countywide across municipal boundaries. A single library card makes access universal.

7. County should continue to expand the book mobile program

Now under the administration of ACLA, Mobile Services are provided to more than 100 locations, primarily pre-school classrooms and senior facilities in low-income communities.

8. County should open a reading center and begin rotating library program

Knowledge Connections, first launched by CLFLAC, were operated by ACLA in public housing communities through 2011. With the availability of a single library card, all County residents have access. Materials move daily through a centralized delivery system operated by the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

9. County should promote new library technologies

All libraries are connected through a 10Gbps fiber ring supporting 3500 networked devices, a shared operating system, high-speed internet, and universal Wi-Fi. There is a centralized automated sorting system for movement of materials, self-check options in numerous libraries, and access to downloadable books, videos and audios for all residents.

10. All libraries should take creative next steps

ACLA libraries are at the epicenter of shifts in education and workforce development. Today you’ll find STEM programming throughout the system, Maker space centers, media labs, tech clinics, parenting workshops, kindergarten readiness classes, coding workshops, self-publishing support, and countless other opportunities.