Delaware County Libraries unveils new plan — and plans to debut a first-ever app

Springfield Township Public Library

File photo: Springfield Township Public Library. (Wikimedia Commons)

What’s important for us to know about Philly’s suburbs?

Delaware County Libraries, the agency in charge of 26 independent member libraries across the county, has put forth a strategic plan to guide its vision through 2026.

“The overall message of our plan is that our libraries in Delaware County are vital, and they’re valued,” agency director Catherine Bittle said of the road map.

Delaware County Libraries is a district center, one of 29 across the state, and is required under  Pennsylvania state code to have a five-year plan for the development and provision of services. The previous plan expired in 2020.

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Devising the new one began last July, with one-on-one interviews with county stakeholders. Delaware County Libraries also rolled out a community-wide survey that closed toward the end of September, with nearly 500 residents responding. Library leadership also talked with elected leaders and members of its own staff.

Since then, the library system has been working with staff and SBrand Solutions to process what was received and turn it into something concrete to share with the state, more than 200,000 library cardholders in Delco, and the broader public.

“In December 2021, we presented a final draft plan to our member libraries, and to the Delaware County Libraries Board, and then it went through a review with our board. And at our February meeting, the board officially adopted the plan to help guide the work of Delaware County Libraries for the next five years,” said Anny Laepple, assistant director for Delaware County Libraries.

More blueprint than strict policy, the strategic plan has eight interconnected pillars.

“The first pillar of our plan is that our libraries are community-centered and engaging. And each aspect of the plan breaks down these pillars, and it lists goals and our indicators of success,” Bittle said. “It’s pretty encompassing, and there’s a lot of information in there to digest.”

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The second pillar involves creating a diverse and inclusive library system that has as its goals reducing barriers to services, creating diverse and inclusive collections, and recruiting and retaining a diverse staff.

Suburban libraries have been somewhat of a hotbed of late for book bans and clashes over equity. Bittle said that she has seen those debates play out elsewhere, but that they are not issues in Delco’s libraries. They haven’t had any challenges to reading material, she said.

“We do follow the American Library Association’s Freedom to Read Statement. Each of our member libraries has this collection development policy that guides their purchases. They also have systems in place, that if they do have challenges, that those challenges will be heard and that materials will be reviewed,” Bittle said.

Some other pillars of the strategic plan include being innovative and creative, becoming leaders in lifelong learning, being open and accessible, and maintaining a level of safety, resourcefulness, and responsiveness.

Laepple said that the libraries are ready to give the community the resources that it needs.

“The last pillar in the plan [is that] libraries are collaborative and sustainable. This is really an internally facing section of the plan that deals with how the Delaware County Libraries District Center and system headquarters and our member libraries interact and collaborate and make one another stronger,” Laepple said.

One exciting aspect of the plan, Bittle and Laepple said, is that they are in the process of beta-testing the first mobile app for Delaware County Libraries. That would directly address the “open and accessible” pillar.

“We’re just going to try to encourage everybody to download the app. The library will now be at your fingertips. And we’re hoping that we reach some of the members of our community that only use their mobile devices to access the internet,” Bittle said.

Delaware County Libraries plans to have its app go live by April 3, the start of National Library Week.

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