Allegheny County Fellows: Five Years Later


2023 marks the fifth anniversary of the creation of the Allegheny County Library Fellows Program, established through the generous support of the Allegheny Regional Asset District (RAD).

RAD’s sponsorship of this program provided our libraries with the opportunity to be equipped and empowered individually and collectively to think about the future, and inclusively meet the needs of all residents within five years.

Through a competitive application process, 10 library staff were chosen to participate in this innovative leadership development initiative.

The program focused on two key areas: assisting libraries in identifying key trends that will impact communities over the next five to 10 years and developing a corps of fellows to take a deep dive into these trends, develop recommendations, and design responses both at the local and system levels.

The outcomes of this work were shared with the larger library community as well as with key stakeholders, founders, and partnering agencies. Many groundbreaking programs and services were identified during this process and have been implemented throughout many libraries in Allegheny County.

We are pleased to share reflections on the program and insights from the Fellows throughout 2023.

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 sound 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 Shared Services.

Check back in July and October for more about our Allegheny Fellows!