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Office of Commonwealth Libraries Five Year Plan

This guide outlines the Office of Commonwealth Libraries Five Year Plan from 2023-2027.

Keystone Grants Long-Range Plan Scope and Methodology

Based on results from a Needs Assessment, the Long-Range Plan was developed in accordance with provisions set forth by 22 Pa. Code Chapter 142. Grants for Public Library Facilities. The Long-Range Plan supports the long-term sustainability of the Fund and should be revisited and modified by the Office of Commonwealth Libraries (OCL) as need dictates. The Long-Range Plan is organized into three components, including:

  1. An action plan to meet the need for improved library facilities through the use of the Keystone Recreation, Parks, and Conservation Fund and other available moneys.
  2. OCL's policies concerning the grants for public library facilities.
  3. A plan for OCL's administration of the program, including provision of technical assistance, monitoring of ongoing projects, and evaluation of completed projects.

Each component includes a prioritized list of recommendations and implementation strategy. Strategies are organized in short-, medium-, and long-term categories with a suggested phasing and timeline. Short-term strategies were developed to be achievable within one-year of the Long-Range Plan’s publication in the Pennsylvania Bulletin. Medium-term strategies are formulated to be reasonably achieved within 2-3 years, and long-term strategies are mapped out for 4-5 years.

Overview of Components and Strategies

SHORT-TERM STRATEGY: Marketing to Libraries About The Program

IDENTIFIED NEED: From 1994 – 2022, over 600 libraries have applied to the Program and OCL has awarded over 400 grants. During this 28-year period, 82 libraries have applied for and received repeat awards. In 2021, Pennsylvania was home to approximately 625 public library outlets. The Needs Assessment verified that approximately half of eligible libraries in Pennsylvania have not received any grant funds from the Program. Libraries that are aware of the Program, appreciate its purpose and benefits, but a broader awareness of the Program across smaller libraries will increase its impact on Pennsylvania communities.

MEDIUM-TERM STRATEGY: Marketing to Municipalities About The Program

IDENTIFIED NEED: The Keystone Grants for Public Library Facilities Program requires coordination with local or county government, and public sponsorship is critical to a successful application. The Needs Assessment found that there is a lack of awareness about the Program at the municipal level, as well as a lack of clarity about the role of the municipality/county/council of government in the grant application process.

LONG-TERM STRATEGY: Develop a Funding Resource Sheet To be Updated Annually

IDENTIFIED NEED: Library systems and facilities have additional federal, state, and local funding resources available to them for planning activities and capital improvements, including, but not limited to Community Development Block Grant, Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, United States Department of Agriculture Community Facilities Program, Local Share Account Program, and private foundation grants. Data collected during the Needs Assessment found that smaller and rural applicants frequently struggle to find matching funds and are not fully aware of other funding opportunities that are available to assist with project costs.

LONG-TERM GOAL: Survey Statewide Need

IDENTIFIED NEED: Utilizing consistent, quality data to drive OCL’s funding decisions will improve Program practices, influence the success of Pennsylvania’s public libraries, and maximize the impact of the Fund to improve the quality of life for residents. Over 70% of libraries that participated in the Needs Assessment indicated their facilities were constructed between 1900-1999. In rural communities, the need for grant funds is shifting from new construction to rehabilitation and/or modification of existing facilities. The Needs Assessment unveiled that the role of public libraries are evolving, some in part due to COVID-19, and the Program must evolve to meet those emerging needs across rural, suburban, and urban communities.

SHORT-TERM STRATEGY: Define The Content, Use, and Benefits of Keystone Planning Projects

IDENTIFIED NEED: Throughout the history of the Program, approximately 99% of all grant dollars awarded have funded construction and rehabilitation projects. Only 1% of awards (3 grant awards) have been used for planning or acquisition costs. Further definition and explanation of the benefits of Keystone Planning Projects will entice more applicants to undertake crucial feasibility and pre-construction work.

MEDIUM-TERM STRATEGY: Establish a “Mini-Grant” Pilot Program for a Planning Project Application Round

IDENTIFIED NEED: Many prospective applicants are unaware of the benefits of planning projects and how they can lead to successful project implementation. Current PDE OCL policy also prevents a planning grant awardee from applying for development or rehabilitation funding within five-years of the initial planning grant.

MEDIUM-TERM STRATEGY: Evaluation of Scoring Criteria

IDENTIFIED NEED: To provide a quantitative basis for scoring criteria and evaluation, OCL currently uses a standardized scoring rubric to evaluate submitted project applications. The current scoring rubric allows a reviewer to assign a numeric score to pre-defined criteria. Feedback collected from interviewees and policy analysis completed during the Needs Assessment revealed that there is no separate scoring rubric for planning and acquisition projects.

MEDIUM-TERM STRATEGY: Reevaluate Eligible Expenses To Include Technology Infrastructure

IDENTIFIED NEED: The Needs Assessment identified a growing number of individuals that utilize public libraries for internet access. Over 51% of libraries surveyed reported that COVID-19 impacted the need for additional public access computers. Additionally, feedback from the Needs Assessment highlighted that technological infrastructure for library facilities, such as Wi-Fi, is one of the fastest growing needs among public libraries. Technology infrastructure improvements would demonstrably improve library service and provide important safety and resiliency functions to protect and preserve library facilities.

LONG-TERM STRATEGY: Improve Intra- and Inter-Agency Coordination

IDENTIFIED NEED: The Program funds a variety of facility improvements for public libraries across the Commonwealth. These facilities range in age, energy efficiency, and historic value, among other factors. There are untapped opportunities for OCL to adopt internal policies to partner with other Commonwealth agencies, such as the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC), to provide technical assistance on energy efficiency upgrades eligible for funding through the Program, or direct assistance to applicants interested in preserving the historic character of the facility during rehabilitation.

SHORT-TERM STRATEGY: Increased Provision of Technical Assistance for New and/or Smaller Applicants

IDENTIFIED NEED: For first-time applicants, or those with limited staff capacity and resources, undertaking the preparation of a Keystone Grant for Public Library Facilities application can be a monumental task. The lack of familiarity with the Program, or inadequate staffing capacity, adversely impacts the quality of submitted applications. A more thorough and detailed application benefits both the applicant (i.e., higher score) and OCL (i.e., faster and less complicated review and scoring process).

SHORT-TERM STRATEGY: Opportunities for Debrief Interviews

IDENTIFIED NEED: Establishing a framework for applicants to receive feedback on previous grant submissions will improve chances of success in future funding cycles; which in turn, will contribute to OCL’s goal to diversify (i.e., geographic region, size of library, type of eligible project, etc.) the public library facilities that utilize the Fund. Data collected from the Needs Assessment confirmed that prior applicants, particularly smaller libraries, have felt discouraged from reapplying to the Fund due to the complexity of the application requirements, and were not aware of any opportunities for a debrief.

MEDIUM-TERM STRATEGY: Establish a Peer Advisory Network for Application Assistance

IDENTIFIED NEED: Prospective applicants that are less familiar with the Program, and have less capacity to develop a competitive application, may also be the greatest beneficiaries of available resources. These applicants often seek time-consuming one-on-one interaction and feedback.

MEDIUM-TERM STRATEGY: Administration Role of Public Sponsors

IDENTIFIED NEED: The Needs Assessment confirmed that public libraries are typically the entity which identifies and prepares the grant request; however, it is the role of the municipality, county, council of government, or other eligible public body to formally sponsor and submit the application. As the grant recipient, municipalities, counties, or other local public bodies are responsible for the grant administration and reporting requirements associated with the program. The Needs Assessment revealed a disconnect between Program knowledge among public sponsors and the technical assistance required by smaller and/or new applicants from their public sponsor to assist with the floodplain and historical analysis requirements, among other application components.

MEDIUM-TERM STRATEGY: Annual Review of Projects to Ensure Equitable Disbursement of Funds

IDENTIFIED NEED: Since its inception, the Program has awarded over 400 grants across Pennsylvania. During this period, 30% of libraries have applied for and received at least two awards, and 13% of libraries have received more than two awards. The highest number of awards received by a single library was six (6) grants. Throughout the history of the Program, 62% of all grants awarded and 72% of all grant dollars awarded went to public libraries located in urban counties.

LONG-TERM STRATEGY: Identify Other Revenue Sources to Meet Increased Demand

IDENTIFIED NEED: The Program is a lifeline for many undercapitalized public library facilities. Originally authorized by Act 50 of 1993 (the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Act) and funded through a combination of bond revenues and realty transfer tax revenues, the Fund has not grown commensurate with the needs of the Commonwealth’s aging public library facilities.