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​Changes to the Statewide Library Card Guidelines


The Governor's Advisory Council on Library Development (GAC) reviewed and updated its 1999 Guidelines for the Statewide Library Card program, adopting a new set of guidelines in 2019. In addition to modernizing the guidelines, the GAC adopted language that is concise and offers greater clarity for librarians and library users alike.

To complete this work, the GAC conducted focus groups with a cross-section of Pennsylvania public libraries, solicited ideas from District Library Center administrators and consultants, and Library System administrators. It also surveyed the library community. From this input, the GAC reviewed and finalized the guidelines in 2019.

Changes to the Guidelines

The guidelines were simplified and updated to reflect current practices and needs. Significant changes include:

  1. The guidelines now state the authority (PA Public Library Code) and purpose of the program – to increase the availability of library materials for PA residents;
  2. Information that clarifies and reinforces the intent of the program;
  3. Nearly all references to the Access Pennsylvania program name were eliminated (with the exception of the continued use of the Access PA logo on a library card to indicate that the patron is eligible to participate);
  4. Definitions that are included in the Public Library Code and regulations are not restated;
  5. Definitions of eligible and ineligible cards holders are easier to understand;
  6. Services available to eligible cardholders were clarified;
  7. Optional services are listed and explained;
  8. The process for handling fines was eliminated from the guidelines. The original guidelines were developed when most Pennsylvania libraries were not automated, and a date due card allowed the calculation of fines. Currently, most libraries in the state are part of library consortiums which govern the collection of fines, and local processes should be used;
  9. References to funding and reporting were eliminated. If funding is restored, a new reporting and reimbursement method will be developed; and
  10. A statement on the priority for funding reimbursement was included, should the program be funded again.

Some recommendations for changes could not be included. A few examples are:

  1. A requirement that municipalities fund local libraries. This was not possible since the Public Library Code does not state this;
  2. A requirement for libraries to use technology to share patron registration information that would verify if a patron was eligible or that a card was valid. The Office of Commonwealth Libraries explored a technology solution for statewide verification of cards and found that a practical, affordable one was not viable at this time due to the projected expense to:
    1. Purchase and maintain SIP/SIP2 connections for each local libraries’ integrated library system; or
    2. Design and maintain application programming interfaces (APIs) so that more than eighteen different types of integrated library systems in use across Pennsylvania could communicate.
  3. A statewide solution in the future may be pursued contingent on advances in technology and improvement of available library resources at the state and local level.

Next Steps

District Library Consultants will work with member libraries to help library staff:

  1. Understand the revised guidelines;
  2. Integrate them into their public service practices;
  3. Educate their library staff members about the new guidelines and practices; and
  4. Implement the new guidelines.


Guideline Review Process

The GAC charged its Policy Committee (David L. Belanger, Chair, Allison J. Mackley, Dr. Larry L. Nesbit, Louis W. LaBar, Mary O. Garm, ex-officio) with reviewing and updating the guidelines.

The committee held a focus group to discuss the program in mid-2017. Thirteen librarians were invited and twelve attended. In addition to representing Pennsylvania’s diverse public libraries, the librarians also included those who have expressed concerns about the program.

Several themes were identified:

  1. Misunderstanding of the program: There is much confusion about the program. There have been mixed messages received from the Office of Commonwealth Libraries over the years. Some people feel the program went away when the funding did. There was also confusion about the procedures of the program. There were several comments related to ILL and the POWER Library program, which are both separate services.
  2. Library cards: There were questions about the need to use a home library, the Access PA Sticker, unserved communities, and if a purchased card would qualify.
  3. Lack of uniformity: Through the years, the program rules have been adapted by libraries to diverge from the intent of the program.
  4. Complicated: The program is complicated for the public and for staff. It seems like a very backward program.
  5. Funding: The program is seen as an unfunded mandate. An advocacy campaign for funding restoration is needed.
  6. Funding II: The program could be used by municipalities to either limit library funding or be seen by the municipality as using local funds to serve non-residents.

Final focus group recommendations were to:

  1. Simplify the program and make it patron-focused;
  2. Educate staff and enforce policies and procedures;
  3. Clearly define who is eligible to participate;
  4. Rebrand the program to be more descriptive and avoid confusion with other Access PA services; and
  5. Advocate for reinstating funding.

The focus group reconvened in July 2018 to review a new draft of the guidelines. Members provided feedback on how the revision reflected their original input. Additional input was received from District Library Center administrators and consultants, and Library System administrators.

This input was incorporated into a revised set of guidelines that was shared with Pennsylvania’s public libraries via a survey in 2018. Following this survey, the guidelines were revised again and submitted to the GAC for review. They were approved by the GAC in 2019.

Statewide Library Card System History

The Statewide Library Card System was developed in 1985-1986 under the banner of Access Pennsylvania, an umbrella program of statewide library services.

Access Pennsylvania was conceived in 1984 as part of the State Library of Pennsylvania’s “Comprehensive Plan for Libraries in Pennsylvania: Recommendations for Improved Access to Library Resources.” With an overarching goal of expanding access to library resources, the plan identified three key objectives:

  1. Developing a statewide library card system that would allow all Pennsylvanians to use any publicly-supported library;
  2. Expanding the use of technology to more effectively share library and information resources; and
  3. Improving the local financial support of public libraries and providing state assistance for the support of libraries in low-income communities.

To accomplish these objectives, work began in 1985 to develop a statewide union catalog on CD-ROM. During its first year, the CD-ROM catalog included 121 libraries (64 public libraries, 28 instructional media services, 25 school libraries, and four academic libraries). This CD-ROM catalog was greatly expanded, updated regularly, and later moved to the Internet. It served as the foundation for POWER Library services.

In 1985-1986, work began to develop the Statewide Library Card System. The program’s founding operational principle was reciprocity. Its goal was to increase the availability of library materials for all Pennsylvanians. Library leaders drafted guidelines for it and the Office of Commonwealth Libraries implemented a statewide pilot project using 150 public libraries of varying types and sizes. The pilot project called for each state-aided local library to agree to honor library cards from other state-aided local libraries with the understanding that borrowing privileges would be extended to its own users. The pilot project was highly successful, and it was phased-in over the next several years in all state-aided libraries. Now, as required by the PA Public Library Code, all state-aided public libraries must participate in the program (Title 24 PA. C.S.A. § 9334 (c)(1)).