New head of Westmoreland Federated Library System ponders libraries' future

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Cesare Muccari, longtime library director at the Greensburg Hempfield Area Library, is the new executive director of the Westmoreland County Federated Library System.

Mr. Muccari, who started the job Aug. 11, was appointed by the system’s board last month to replace Nancy Gresko, who resigned in the spring. His salary will be $60,000.

Mr. Muccari, 64, has been the director at the Greensburg library for 27 years and guided it through a period of fast-changing technology advances.

“The big change has been in e-books,” Mr. Muccari said. “At our library, e-books now make up 13 percent of our circulation, or about 1,800 books a month,” he said.

But he foresees that rising to 40 or 50 percent in the next three years.

“It’s not just young people, it’s older people, too, who are moving to e-books,” he said. “And that’s because of their eyesight; you can adjust the size of the type on these devices.”

He said even the devices that readers use to download e-books are rapidly changing.

“Two years ago, the Nook was the most popular device,” he said. “But now the bigger tablets — whether it’s the Kindle Fire, iPad or Samsung Galaxy — are the most popular.”

Current fictions, such as the newest James Patterson or John Grisham novels, are the most popular e-books, he said.

Mr. Muccari said a major benefit for county residents occurred when the 20-plus libraries in Westmoreland County formed a consortium to share their collections about six years ago. As a result, a patron in Mt. Pleasant can order a print book or download an e-book that was purchased by the Latrobe library, for example.

“In Greensburg, we have a collection of 85,000 items, but the consortium of libraries has a collection of 500,000 that readers have available,” he said.

The Greensburg library still spends more money on print books than on digital e-books, but he said that may change in the next few years.

E-books are expensive and book publishers are still jockeying with Amazon and libraries on their prices, he said.

Libraries are at a distinct disadvantage when buying e-books from the major publishers, he said. As recently as two years ago, some publishers refused to sell e-books to libraries because they feared it would decrease sales of their print books.

Now all five major publishers sell e-books to libraries, but their terms vary greatly.

“An individual might be able to buy an e-book for $14.99 on Amazon, when Amazon sells a print copy in hardback for $20,” he said.

“But the publishers have a different pricing scale for libraries for e-books. One may charge us $85 for a new novel, but we have that copy forever. Another publisher might sell it to us for $25, but we can only lend it out 26 times. Another might sell it to us for $15, but it expires in one year.

“And Amazon is in a big fight with the publishers, too,” he said. “Amazon is trying to become a library; they want to rent out e-books. But none of the big five publishers want to do that with Amazon.”

“So libraries need to work together, because e-books are the future of libraries,” he said.

Despite the move to e-books and using online databases from home computers, libraries are still very busy places, Mr. Muccari said. And he hasn’t seen the number of visitors drop in recent years.

“We have about 650 people a day who come into the Greensburg library,” he said. “They come for the children’s programs, to use our computers and for the DVDs, in addition to checking out print books. DVDs are now 35 percent of our circulation, so they are very popular.”

“Our children’s programs account for 25 percent of our patrons — in the summer we have 10 or 11 programs a day,” he said. “We are also a tech center; we have 17 public computers that are free, and people use them to access the Internet, or apply for jobs online.”

“I think we’ll see libraries continue to be tech centers in the future because not everyone has access to computers and high-speed Internet,” he added.

Mr. Muccari was hired in Greensburg in 1987, and he still remembers the then-board president saying they hoped he would bring the library into the 20th century (not the 21st) while acknowledging that they didn’t have any money.

That was only to get worse with significant state budget cuts to libraries in the past six or seven years.

This year’s state budget has flat funding for libraries, which is good news, but Mr. Muccari doesn’t see state funds increasing because of ongoing revenue shortfalls in Pennsylvania.

Many of the county’s libraries, including Greensburg, are closed one weekday now because of those state cuts. State funds often make up a third of the library’s total budget.

So all libraries in the state have to increase local fundraisers to make up the shortfalls or reduce services substantially.

The Greensburg library has two major donor mailings a year; gets about $9,000 from the annual Day of Giving coordinated through the Community Foundation of Westmoreland County; raises about $30,000 annually at its November Library Libations event with entertainment and food; and continues to see good revenues from memorials, which are items purchased that are dedicated to deceased family members.

“The fact that we’ve been able to undergo these big changes with very little in resources has been satisfying,” he said.

But he will now shift his emphasis to helping all county libraries, especially with technology. He will work at the countywide system offices along Donahue Road in Greensburg.

“My job is to assist the county libraries; I’m not their boss,” he said. “We maintain the Polaris system of sharing circulations and another platform for sharing e-books.”

“We have a van service that delivers the books from Library A to Library B. Our libraries get van service almost every day; we have three van routes. So a patron in New Kensington can order a book in Monessen’s collection and get it within two or three days. We move about a thousand items every day in the county.”

“Libraries are changing,” Mr. Muccari said. “They are becoming community education centers, with all kinds of programs.

“Two things distinguish the United States as a democracy: Everyone can access a good, free, public education; And everyone can access information free at our libraries, and they are the best in the world.

“Libraries will be the information centers of the future,” he said.

Debra Duncan, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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