Allegheny County Fellows: Five Years Later

Introduction

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Courtney Bonnet

Children’s Librarian – Outreach Coordinator, Northland Public Library

What prompted you to apply for the Fellows program?

At the time the Fellows program began I had only been working as a librarian for about 4 years and I knew the opportunities that Fellows program would provide would make me a better librarian by working with some of the best in my field. The Fellows program was not only offering an opportunity to make positive changes throughout Allegheny County but it would provide a professional environment that would encourage open discussions, professional relationships, and an avenue for improving library services for patrons along with developing improvements for staff. This Fellows program was an opportunity I had to be part of!

What is a key take away from the program?

One on the key takeaways I discovered after completing the Fellows program was how easy it was to have common goals with my fellows. While some of the discussions were hard and the exercises we did may have been out of our comfort zones, we were all in this together and wanted to try our hardest to accomplish what was being asked of us. I was never afraid to speak up, just listen or ask questions when I was unsure. The entire group was committed to identifying key trends, meeting the needs if ALL patrons/community members as well as increasing diversity, getting materials in the hands of those who need them and establishing ways to work with community organizations.

What impact has the program had on your work?

The program gave me more confidence in my leadership skills while increasing my awareness of the needs of patrons and library staff inside and outside of my own community. Once the “fine free” programs rolled out I was equipped with the knowledge of why this could be beneficial and while there may have been some push back and it is still too new to know the full impact there were sounds and logical reasons to back up this change.

What changes have you seen thanks to the work of the Fellows?

One of the greatest impacts I have seen thanks to the work of the Fellows is libraries becoming “fine free” and/or changes in the lending policies. Patrons are now being given almost unlimited renewals (unless the item is placed on hold for another patron) automatically without the worry of remembering to renew every single item. At Northland Public Library these changes are too new to be able to detect the outcome but I am hopeful it will be a positive change that keeps our patrons coming into the library and borrowing all the materials they need. Being fine free may seem like only a monetary issue but it shows patrons that as libraries, we want everyone to have access to our materials and that a fine should not prevent children, teens and adults from coming to the library for the help they need.

I have also seen changes professionally from my work on the Fellows Program. In the years that have passed I have made an even bigger effort to join committees and board in hopes of keeping these positive changes coming. The pandemic was obviously a set back for all of us but I can see things coming back and I look forward to facing the new challenges. Libraries are now facing the ever-increasing need for virtual access of not only materials but programming as well and with staff shortages and a struggling economy it will definitely be an uphill battle but I am confident that it is something the library profession as a whole can handle!


Jill McConnell

Executive Director, Cooper-Siegel Community Library

What prompted you to apply for the Fellows program?

I wanted to apply for the Fellows program because I am always looking for ways to improve my leadership skills. I was also interested in collaborating with other librarians in the county.

What is a key take away from the program?

My key take away was that all the libraries face the same or similar challenges regardless of their size or budget.

What impact has the program had on your work?

The program has impacted my work by making me feel more connected to other librarians in the county. I feel more comfortable reaching out to other libraries with questions and providing suggestions when asked.

What changes have you seen thanks to the work of the Fellows?

I think the Fellows’ work was instrumental in getting a Fine Free pilot off the ground which eventually led to nearly half of the libraries going fine free by 2022. While none of the other proposed pilots gained any traction, there have been some new developments by other entities that support those pilots. For instance, the PA Library Staff Academy is a good step toward developing county-wide cultural competency training for library staff.


Marta Honores

Assistant Director, Programs & Partnerships, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

What prompted you to apply for the Fellows program?

I was excited to have a chance to connect with other library leaders across the county and think about our services holistically.?

What is a key take away from the program?

Outside of the relationships that I formed with county colleagues, the change management learning was probably the most helpful piece.?

What impact has the program had on your work?

For me personally, I think it helped emphasize the importance of taking time outside of our regular day-to-day work to plan, think big, and connect with each other.?

What changes have you seen thanks to the work of the Fellows?

The work that we began together 5 years ago has shaped so much of the progress we’ve made, including fine free, school library cards and Shard Services.


Pam Calfo

Director, Plum Borough Community Library

What prompted you to apply for the Fellows program

The opportunity for me to work on my leadership and communication skills, as well as meet other colleagues I would not have had the opportunity to work with if not for the program.

What is a key take away from the program

The program brought professionals from all different libraries, library sizes and communities together to brainstorm different projects to improve library service. It was great to meet different peers and hear about their experiences in library service and learn about the different projects taking place at libraries across the county. It really helped me learn about challenges at other libraries, as well as hear about the exciting opportunities taking place elsewhere. Working with amazing people throughout the county was one of the best experiences of the program.

What impact has the program had on your work

The program really helped me develop my confidence in addition to helping me create connections with colleagues throughout the county.

What changes have you seen thanks to the work of the Fellows

The biggest impact I have seen thanks to the work of the Fellows program is the implementation of the fine free library program. This idea was born out of the original work that was done in this program. Many libraries in Allegheny County and all Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh branches are fine free. This is a tremendous way to create more equitable service in Allegheny County for library patrons and break down barriers.


Paula Kelly

Director, Whitehall Public Library

What prompted you to apply for the Fellows program?

Several things prompted me to apply. I was intrigued by the RAD’s effort to be proactively forward-thinking about the future of libraries, and in particular with regard to issues around inclusivity. I appreciated being able to think about big outside-of-the-box ideas and ideals, and to have real conversations about whether those ideas and ideals were tenable in any way for the near future.

In addition, it presented an opportunity to expand my skillset to hopefully make me a more effective library leader and community partner. I also knew that I would meet others who would inspire me.

What is a key take away from the program?

The positive take-away was the united front around what libraries were currently doing to serve, and the optimism I felt about how that service will only improve as we would hopefully move forward and apply many of the ideals discussed over the work performed as a co-hort.

One thing that also struck me was the fact that so many leaders (outside of the library sphere) were (to me) surprisingly still uninformed about the scope of what we already do. This tells me that libraries need to re-think their messaging and do a better job of telling their stories. I’ve never ‘let go’ of my vision of a Library Ambassador whose only job is to do just that!

I also believe in the need for professional development opportunities to not only network but to have the actual resources behind those networking opportunities to effect changes.

What changes have you seen thanks to the work of the Fellows?

I think that this is an extraordinarily difficult question to confidently answer given the global events that transpired between the time of this work and the present. For instance, we spent a lot of time discussing fine-free libraries and the idea of making our system fine-free. Not long after this work, a successful pilot was developed.

However, I think that the COVID pandemic was actually a more effective driver that influenced many more libraries to ultimately become fine free.

I also think that the Black Lives Matter movement subsequent to George Floyd’s murder influenced libraries to vigorously reexamine barriers, biases and systemic racial constructs. Although these issues were robustly discussed and debated among the Fellows, in my opinion it took a global movement to effectively move the needle.


Rachel Brehm

Library Director, Braddock Carnegie Library Association

What prompted you to apply for the Fellows program?

I was new in my role as a Library Director and looking for both professional development and a community of library professionals looking to expand library services on a county-wide scale.

What is a key take away from the program?

I enjoyed working with our county library staff to connect, brainstorm, and create connections across libraries.

What impact has the program had on your work?

I was able to work with other cohort members to lay the foundation of what became the Fine Free Pilot Project, which became the Barriers Free Group, which became the EDI Advisory Group. I look forward to the next development in accessible and liberating library service.

What changes have you seen thanks to the work of the Fellows?

I have been able to work with a wider variety of library staff on county-wide issues. I have felt that there is greater openness to trying new ideas and expanding services.


Schuyler Hernstrom

Library Services Manager, CLP-Sheraden

What prompted you to apply for the Fellows program?

I was, and am, very interested in working with people throughout the county. My library is very close to two libraries, McKees Rocks and Crafton, that are not a part of CLP. We serve some of the same customers and these customers don’t necessarily see or understand the distinction. It is very important that we work closely together for the sake of our patrons.

What is a key take away from the program?

My big takeaway was that more staff should be involved in county-wide brainstorming and planning. I felt the sessions were very stimulating and instructive and more people should get that opportunity.

What impact has the program had on your work?

The long-term impact for me has been a better understanding of county wide systems and decision making.

What changes have you seen thanks to the work of the Fellows?

I think you can trace the Fine-Free policy back to us which is great. We can’t take all the credit but more shared services are moving forward and that’s also great.


Taylor Lee

Library Services Manager, CLP-Downtown

What prompted you to apply for the Fellows program?

I wanted to expand my leadership skills and projects outside my direct library while also working on something that could make libraries more accessible to all.

What is a key take away from the program?

That when libraries work together, we’re able to achieve so much more.

What impact has the program had on your work?

It gave me valuable connections to some wonderful colleagues that I still work with today. It enhanced my critical thinking skills so I can better envision “big picture” ideas. It gave me the courage to try new things and showed me that collaborating with my colleagues makes everything better.

What changes have you seen thanks to the work of the Fellows?

Fine Free! I’m still really proud we were able to help bring this idea to fruition and streamline the process for so many libraries and their communities.


Wesley Roberts

Library Services Manager, Workforce and Economic Development

What prompted you to apply for the Fellows program?

I liked the idea of working on countywide projects that make library services more efficient and effective for Allegheny County library users. I was also interested in working closely with my ACLA library colleagues to learn more about their work and goals.

What is a key take away from the program?

Designing large scale, effective shared services is hard — but it can be made easier with a great team!

What impact has the program had on your work?

I’ve seen a lot of the work come to fruition in the post-program shared services designs, which has demonstrated to me that thorough planning and communication of the desired goal can lead to success.??

What changes have you seen thanks to the work of the Fellows?

Quite a few shared services have begun growing, such as the fine free initiative growing throughout the county, and shared services around fundraising and finances. Most importantly, I think there is greater recognition of the need for collaboration around library services.