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10 things to know about the Jefferson County Library Cooperative

Tobin Cataldo last month stepped to the helm of the Jefferson County Library Cooperative (Provided Photo)
By Terri Robertson

Tobin Cataldo last month stepped to the helm of the Jefferson County Library Cooperative (JCLC).

There are 1,455 public and staff computers in municipal libraries throughout Jefferson County.

“I think we’re going to have a mind shift about what the JCLC is over the next 10 years, and how libraries are changing in terms of technology and expectations of consumers, particularly in terms of on-demand access to information,” said Cataldo, the executive director.

“We can help facilitate the exchange of ideas and knowledge. Hoover or Homewood Library, for example, can come and share what they’ve learned with the group. That can create awareness of what’s possible and what’s working for other people,”Cataldo said.

“We’re at an interesting point. Funding’s going down for libraries, and we’re trying to add more services, materials and opportunity for the community.”

He holds a master’s of library science from the School of Library and Information Management at Emporia State University. He worked for the Birmingham Public Library for 13 years.

Most recently, he served as collections management coordinator, which entailed working closely with the JCLC. He enters the executive director role with an understanding of the service offerings of JCLC and its relationships with municipal libraries across Jefferson County.

So what is the cooperative anyway, and how does it tie into your public municipal library?

“The (JCLC) exists to provide better library services than a municipal library could on its own, and to try to find cost savings through economies of scale, collaboration and shared platforms,” said Cataldo.

Here are 10 things to know about the JCLC:

  1. 40 years, 40 libraries

Founded in 1978, the JCLC is a voluntary collaboration among 40-member libraries across 22 municipalities. Nineteen of those are part of the Birmingham Public Library.

  1. It’s a supporting role

Birmingham, Hoover, Homewood, Vestavia Hills and all other municipal public libraries—they come first. “The JCLC should be underneath, helping boost everybody up,” Cataldo said.

  1. A small but dedicated crew

The JCLC staff includes the executive director, an administrative assistant/office manager, the administrator of the ILS (integrated library system), a full-time cataloguer, IT support, a PC technician and a handful of part-time staff. They serve under the governance of the JCLC Board of Directors.

  1. There have been only three executive directors
    Cataldo has big shoes to fill. His predecessor, Patricia Ryan, served from 1997 to 2018. Before Ryan came George Stewart, JCLC’s first executive director, who served from 1977 to 1997.

“One of my favorite memories of being director of the JCLC was in 1998 when Alabama accepted the Gates Library Foundation Initiative as their first state project to improve technology in public libraries,” said Ryan, retired executive director, JCLC.

  1. Circulation is down
    That’s a national trend that holds true for Jefferson County. The exception is the Linn Henley Research library and its archives, which remain a bastion of genealogical research and Southern history.
  2. Multiple formats are in demand
    While circulation is down, more formats of each book are needed to reach everyone, such as audio books, e-books, large-print books and hardbacks. More formats equal more cost.
  3. Programs are up
    Jefferson County citizens rely on their city public libraries for youth classes and workforce development, including computer classes. The Birmingham Public Library, for example, collaborates with the UAB School of Engineering on a program that teaches teens engineering concepts.
  4. Budgets are tightening
    Yep, libraries feel the crunch, too. And they’re trying to do more with less. Helping municipal libraries face this challenge while providing better services is at the core of what Cataldo sees as the JCLC’s role going forward. “Anytime we can demonstrate collaboration effectively across borders, I believe we’re all better for it,” Cataldo said.
  5. The goal

Increased cost savings and value for libraries in the cooperative through economies of scale, collaboration and shared platforms.

Over the last four decades, the JCLC has collaborated with city libraries to introduce efficiencies, cost savings, standardization and less duplication of services. Examples include the ILS (integrated library system) and OverDrive, a shared platform for e-books and audio books, which reduces costs for individual libraries.

Expect that tradition to continue and grow under Cataldo’s leadership, with an emphasis on the cooperative delivering value that member libraries can see on their bottom line.

  1. What’s the new executive director looking forward to?
    “I’m excited to be working with some great people in the county. There are some really smart, intelligent people who love libraries,” Cataldo said.

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