Altoona unable to participate in planned library union catalog

The Altoona Area Public Library’s database is too large for it to participate in a countywide union catalog system.

Some trustees expressed concern at a recent board meeting when library Executive Director Jennifer Knisely told them about the issue. The trustees said Altoona had been on board to pay the lion’s share of the cost to keep the system running.

Tim Salony, Blair County Library System administrator, said original plans to develop a union catalog go back a long way.

“There’s always been a desire to have a union catalog with all eight [county] libraries on the same system,” he said, but those ambitions could not be turned into a reality for all of them.

The integrated library system that was to be used was called Spark, he said.

The total cost for the eight libraries – Altoona, Bellwood-Antis, Claysburg, Hollidaysburg, Martinsburg, Roaring Spring, Tyrone-Snyder and Williamsburg – to exist together on Spark would have been between $14,000 and $15,000.

Altoona’s share of the cost would have been between $10,000 and $11,000, Salony said, based on the size of its collection and number of checkouts.

Altoona now uses a system called Sirsi, Salony said.

Bellwood-Antis decided to remain connected to the school district’s database, called Destiny, and Williamsburg converted alone to Spark.

That leaves Claysburg, Hollidaysburg, Martinsburg, Roaring Spring and Tyrone-Snyder libraries, Salony said, and plans are being finalized to convert them to a union catalog system using Destiny. It will cost around $1,000 each year per library to keep it running, he said.

Salony said once the new system goes live around mid-May, library patrons will see their options expand.

“It’s a very slick way for resource-sharing,” Salony said, and people searching the catalog will be able to browse collections for all five libraries in one place.

They can either, for example, place a book on hold in Tyrone and drive from Roaring Spring to pick it up, or have it sent to Roaring Spring’s library.

Salony noted that patrons still will be able to use interlibrary loans to borrow books from Altoona, Bellwood-Antis or Williamsburg, but it’s “not as efficient” and users will have to search multiple databases.

Salony also said it will reduce costs for the libraries, and each will be able to specialize in one area and allow other libraries to do the same. There will be no need for multiple libraries to purchase copies of books another library already has in its collection, he said.

This will be especially cost-effective for nonfiction books, he added, which don’t circulate as much.

Hollidaysburg Area Public Library Director Janet Eldred said although plans are in the works still, she’s excited to soon be able to offer the service to the community.

“[Library patrons will be] able to access several of the different libraries in the county,” she said. “It’s a great partnership.”