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Pennsylvania libraries operate independently — primarily as nonprofit organizations or municipal-owned services — but York County Library System President Bill Schell believes inter-library cooperation is critical to their success.

“You know how Pennsylvania is — we’re like feudal Germany, everybody’s got their jersey on, and they don’t want to play in the sandbox with other people. But you’ve got to play in the sandbox with other people, or you’re going backwards,” Schell said.

That’s where county library systems come in. Jonelle Darr, executive director of the Cumberland County Library System, described the system as the “back office” of the county’s eight libraries, and said it maintains shared databases and computer services, coordinates staff training, and finds efficiencies.

The county’s interlibrary loan system, which allows people to request books from other county libraries online and pick them up at their home library upon arrival, is perhaps the most visible and popular service coordinated by the library system.

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“That’s one of the biggest changes that people have seen, and people love it — they absolutely love it,” Darr said.

The Cumberland County system also is responsible for distributing to local libraries the $3.2 million in county funding and more than $1 million in state support it received in 2013.

“Every county system can distribute it how they want to,” Schell said. York County distributes the funds through a formula mirroring the state funding formula and emphasizing local fundraising, while Cumberland County’s formula also factors in circulation levels, program attendance and numbers of items shared with other libraries.

The Cumberland County system is an independent county agency governed by a seven-member board appointed by the Cumberland county commissioners. Individual libraries have their own boards that create budgets, set staff salaries and determine what programs to offer, Darr said.

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