PaLA: Successful Libraries

Panel of Librarians from various types and sizes of libraries, also with various organizational types.

David Belanger, facilitator, started us out by discussing the many, many configurations of libraries in Pennsylvania. We will learn the pros and cons of there configs and how it impacts their success.

Cathi Alloway: State College library the only library governed by a Council of Governance – loose consortium of government entities (municipalities/counties).  Usually they manage coordinated road projects, but bigger COGs do more including the library.  Library has to go to the finance committee (39 elected officials) and each municipality pays a portion based on circulation. Standard and predictable funding formula. COG handles personnel and other centralized services. There are 84 COGs in the state – if interested, go to a monthly meeting. Cathi feels they are underutilized.

Amy Geisinger: DLC in New Castle. Federated library systems – there are many, but they are different. Serve all residents of their county – benefit. Standards of expectations and similar rules/regs. Have independent Boards that may conflict with over-arching Board regarding policies and procedures. Can gear your programs and materials to your direct service area – don’t have to be county-wide programs.  Have more independent control. Tension…an issue in most FLS’s – difficult to make consolidated decisions.  Funding issues – county money, but municipalities may feel they can provide less local funding. Struggle to get the funding you need. Pros – work together to provide consistent service, but struggles of an independent library and doing everything on your own.

Nicole Hemline: Monroeville PL, Municipal department. Receive 70% funding through city, but also part of a federated system. “Department when convenient.” Gives Council a sense of ownership. Vested. Employee benefits are wonderful – same pool as union employees. Fringe benefits – snow, grass, HR questions, Lawyer, Finance support. “Sometimes the red-headed step child.”  Built-in partnership with Senior Center and Parks & Rec – greater reach. In the loop of Community needs and awareness of city issues.  Drawbacks: politics and dealing with Council and Mayor (may insert pressure), more red tape, slower decisions/procedures to be followed, answer to a lot of people – Board, Mayor, Municipal Manger. False sense of security and complacency a risk. Not a 501c3 – need a Friends group or Foundation. Lots of Communication a pro and Showing Up is a “huge deal”.  Show up at Council meetings and slowly build relationships and bring solutions and not just asks for money.

Rob Lesher: Former ED of Dauphin County Library System – Consolidated Library System (CLS) and also at a FLS. Takes advantage of efficiencies – ONE admin unit runs the system. CLS – usually county-wide level. One Board of Directors, selected at-large from throughout the county. One set of elected officials you are responsible. Consistent message. Con: Having just the one group, funding can be a challenge. Rogue politicians who could have a huge impact on funding. Need to ensure positive relationships. CLS has staff consistency – everyone trained together at one time. But, you have multiple locations and need to be able to move staff around the county. Opportunities to have consistent branding/messaging. Central library/branches – patrons identify with the building that they go to and the branding may not relate to the county, but the local branch. Streamline planning, as well. Ownership of multiple buildings – maintenance!  When planning, impacts financial needs.

Cindy DeLuca : Rural local independent library in the Poconos. 501c3 – 110 years old from a lady’s club. Small budget for 85 years – now budget over $300,000 because of local tax referendum funding.  Went to super voters in a primary election and in 73% voted YES.  Must rely on local support – “have to grow up and realize that.”  Go back for more $$ every 10 years – don’t wait. Climate of tax payers change.  Fundraise – a difficult part, but have 2 family foundations that help underwrite funding. Small, rural – it’s all about knowing people, donors, and you have to ASK.  Board of 10, with 4 from municipalities. Pros: Effect change immediately and easier to initiate new services in response to the community.  People feel vested in their community library – ownership – they paid for it!  Also ability to collaborate. Cons: Funding impacted by real estate values. Staff issues and HR – can’t afford crazy expensive benefits. Lots of part-time employees and low pay. Dependent on budget and challenges are same as, just a different scale. Local Funding and always create positive relationships.

Patrons don’t care – they just want their stuff, but we need to be aware and consider new relationships to improve service (as suggested by Christi, director of PaLA) – and “be stronger when you leave today.”

How to you manage perceived competition from a funding formulas in a federated system. Amy – I have no idea!  Always an issue that you compete for funding. Have to work together and coordinate who you tap and then share the funding. How do you work toward the greater good?  David suggests you Start the conversation agree to decide what the formula will accomplish – everyone gets a little, do you have a service goal, is it based on use – general discussion of philosophy. Law suits have happened.

Cons for COG structure? No, except it is a lot of work for the elected officials. Lots of meetings, many Boards to report to, including a Foundation board. Life of emails and meetings. Like it and encourage libraries to look into COGs. So much time spent on inter-library squabbles! PA is 49th in local funding, but with D.C., we are 2 from the bottom 🙂

Has anyone had experience with transition from one to another structure. Nicole moved from a 501c3 to FLS to Municipal. Constant fundraising and tight cash flow. Always projected a deficit, but never ran it. FLS squabbles. Like having experience of show your value.  Prove ourselves everyday regardless of what type of library you have. Springfield Township went from 501c3, but in 2007 changed to Township department. Governing Board turned into an Advisory Board, but that transition was hard for the Board.  Her boss became the  Manager and Council. “Born on the wrong side of the street.” What made the Township agree to take it over?  Driven by 2003 state funding cut – Township said they’d make up the difference, but then the 2nd cut the Board asked the Township to take over the library.  Nothing in writing – so hard to get money.

No change of a Federated to Consolidated since 1980 – Dauphin County. – Peters Township just changed from Indep. to Municipal government, but still part of a federated system. Joys of being a Commonwealth.

Why don’t we create a PA Think Tank and restructure our libraries. NY does it better (most based on school district boundaries and referendums are common). Tap into the collective to find better ways of organizing libraries.  “Very dug in.”  Be open minded. In preparing for Library Legislative Day – handout about library funding in PA. 85% of our libraries are 501c3s (Maine is 2nd with 55%). We have to be fundraisers, as well as library directors. “With increased funding and support, libraries will move PA forward.”

Changes can be incremental – Maybe they won’t increase your revenue, but ask them to take ownership of other services (grass, snow removal, etc.)

Wayne County library alliance – county saves us. Failed referendum. Population now more interested in local funding – many new residents from NY/NJ and different expectations of service and funding. Farmers would get hammered, but puts the funding in terms of pizza and soda!  Repealed tax after referendum was passed. Study said support is currently at 48%.

In some small, rural areas money is getting tighter. What happens if the library closes? Transition? change ownership? Robin took on a library as a branch. All cons in the beginning, but starting to see a few pros. Communication between Council, Manager and Residents was poor – they didn’t know anything. Came in and ‘took over’ and fired ‘beloved staff’ and ‘shut the library down’ (to do keystone grant upgrades). So now have new staff, better positive press.  Community beginning to change perception. Must have BUY IN from the council, not just the city manager.

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