Backing books: Blair libraries to benefit from Mirror’s Season of Sharing program

Blair libraries to benefit from annual appeal

Lila Benjamin, 15, of Altoona reads in the mezzanine at the Altoona Area Public Library. The Blair County Library System is this year’s recipient in the Altoona Mirror Season of Sharing. Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski

The Altoona Mirror Season of Sharing recipient is the Blair County Library System, which — with its eight member libraries — brings diverse services within a 15-minute drive of Blair County residents.

Member libraries are: Altoona Area Public Library, Bellwood-Antis Public Library, Claysburg Area Public Library, Hollidaysburg Area Public Library, Martinsburg Community Library, Roaring Spring Community Library, Tyrone-Snyder Public Library and Williamsburg Public Library.

In addition to a form in this weekend’s Altoona Mirror, donation envelopes will also be available at each library.

Since 2005, the Season of Sharing has raised $307,500 to help organizations in the community help area residents when they need it most. Last year, this effort raised a record-setting $60,125 for the Altoona Food Bank.

“The generosity of residents is outstanding,” said Publisher Dan Slep. “We encourage support of this year’s recipient — the Blair County Library System — because ‘knowledge is power.’ An informed citizenry with critical thinking skills is essential to success whether you are a student, a worker, a parent or a consumer. We need to cultivate lifelong learners with access to information through libraries for future growth and success.”

Taylor Ridgeley of Roaring Spring looks for a book on Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh for her son at the Roaring Spring Community Library. Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski

Local libraries generate the largest percentage of operational funding through fund-raisers and private contributions, according to Katie Greenleaf Martin, county coordinator for the system. Season of Sharing is the first countywide appeal undertaken on the system’s behalf.

Across its eight libraries, the Blair County Library System:

* Served 48,138 registered users — 38% of the county population in 2019-20, the most recent year statistics were reported to the Institute of Library & Museum Services.

* Physical and online collections were used more than 200,000 times and over 200,000 visits were made.

* Nearly 52,000 children attended library programs.

Roaring Spring Community Library assistant director Cortney Gensimore stocks shelves in the library’s Fridge in the Foyer and Pop Up Pantry food giveaway area. Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski

* 340,538 items are available for check out in Blair County and more than 1.3 million books and 55,000 audiobooks are available through partner libraries and virtually unlimited options through interlibrary loan.

* Additionally, 272,874 connections were made to the libraries’ Wi-Fi networks, many of which extend outside the buildings. (Statistics from 2019-20)

Williamsburg Public Library patron Lenora Wilson visits at least twice a week to use library computers with internet service and check out books of all types from physical books to audiobooks and electronic books.

In addition to connecting her with good reads, she’s built a connection to library staff who have helped her set up a new cellphone, access electronic unemployment benefits and helped her navigate online job sites where she found her position as a certified nursing assistant.

“My mother was a teacher, and she instilled in me to go to the library. She was a teacher and a single parent and raised five children,” Wilson, 57, said. “We didn’t go places; we went to the library because there were things we could do for free.”

Through the decades, libraries have continued to adapt and change with innovations in technology and relationships with academic and national institutions to forge a network of unlimited resource sharing at the local, regional, state and national levels. The Blair County Library System implemented countywide resource sharing with its “one card, one catalog” system in 2017 that makes sharing easy for patrons — a value, which skyrocketed during the pandemic and when the Altoona library location closed and then operated from temporary locations for 10 months following a devastating flood.

Libraries offer more services and resources than ever before and all for free or a minimal fee, said Jennifer Knisely, who serves in a dual role as Blair County Library System administrator and executive director of the Altoona Library.

“Even though we were presented with challenges with COVID, as was everyone else, our libraries were forward-thinking enough and innovative enough to put plans in place for curbside pickups and virtual story times,” Knisely said. “We were able to be flexible in service delivery and that is one of the big successes of the libraries and leadership in each library … in keeping the perspective of the users in the forefront.”

With schools closed and residents in senior living homes locked down, the libraries offered curbside pickup, continued the homebound delivery system with contactless pickup/dropoff as added precautions, and as restrictions eased, appointments were available for browsing the shelves, said Greenleaf Martin.

For Lou Ann and Dave Clary of Hollidaysburg, the Hollidaysburg Area Public Library feeds their desire to learn, grow and relax with books and also jigsaw puzzles, which became hard to find and pricey during the pandemic.

Lou Ann said enjoys sharing books and puzzles with other patrons and her frequent library visits have forged friendships with library staff as they trade recommendations.

Attorney Mary Ann Joyce Bistline, a member of the Blair County Library System board, is a lifelong patron and said, “It’s so great to have the community support our libraries. It’s good to have library access for everyone. It’s what it’s meant to be.”


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