System History

In July 1985, a year-long study of Berks County libraries culminated in the release of a 97-page report titled Public Library Service for Berks County. The key recommendations of this grant-funded report were to form a "county-wide system of federated libraries...and to operate a center supportive of all the libraries in the system."

1986 – The Berks County Board of Commissioners officially established the Berks County Public Library System (BCPL) to provide a “countywide system of federated libraries and maintain a center for administrative support services.” Dr. Dodson E. Dreisbach is appointed by the Commissioners and is elected to serve as the first president. The twelve charter libraries include: Bethel-Tulpehocken Free Public Library, Birdsboro Community Library (now Boone Area Library), Hamburg Public Library, Kutztown Public Library, Mifflin Community Library (withdrew membership in 1989 and rejoined in 1998), Muhlenberg Community Library, Reading Public Library (RPL), Robesonia Community Library, Sinking Spring Public Library, Village Library of Morgantown, Wernersville Public Library and West Lawn Community Library (now West Lawn-Wyomissing Hills Library). During this year, these libraries served 45,000 registered borrowers and circulated 470,900 items.

1987 – The national Year of the Reader, BCPL established its first rotating collections, presented the first county-wide summer reading program, and received its first direct state aid funding for distribution to the membership. County funding for the member libraries totaled $125,000.

1988 – Brandywine Community Library and Boyertown Community Library joined the System.

1989 - Schuylkill Valley Community Library and Fleetwood Area Public Library joined the System.

1990 – By the end of 1990, county funding for public library services had grown 154% to just under $325,000; borrower registrations had increased by 35%. An LSCA grant-funded project was begun to add BCPL holdings to the Access Pennsylvania database and install the first public access computers in System member libraries. An Automation Specialist was added to the Headquarters staff.

1991 – System Headquarters assumed operation of the County Bookmobile. Reading Public Library installed a library automation network.

1992 – Participation in Summer Reading grew to unprecedented numbers; children read an average of 41 books each during the 12-week program. A $100,000 Community Development Block Grant added more than 8,000 closed-captioned videos, audio books and large print items to System collections. County funding for public library services increased to $2.05 per capita.

1994 1997 — Member library collections are barcoded and added to the automated library network (ALIN). Bernville Area Community Library joined the System.

1996 – System began van delivery to libraries. The initiation of van delivery service, access to the Internet and its vast resources, and the first-ever statewide Summer Reading program, Pennsylvania Patchwork, were significant events of this year. BCPL celebrated its tenth anniversary with the establishment of the Dreisbach Award for Exemplary Service. Its first recipient was Dr. Dodson Dreisbach, founding member of BCPL and of the Friends of Reading-Berks Public Libraries.

1997 – Womelsdorf Community Library joined the System.

1999 – Exeter Community Library joined the System. County funding grew to $1.2 million.

2000 – The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awared grants to the System totaling $225,500. These funds doubled the number of Internet access points in the libraries to 120 and created a fully-equipped training lab for library staff and the public at Reading Public Library. Summer Reading reached an all-time high; the number of children participating increased 17% over the previous year and the number of books read grew 11%. E-book readers were provided for all System libraries and Reading Public Library added the first electronic books to the District Center collection. During a time when libraries across the nation were experiencing decline in circulation, BCPL’s grew 11% to over 1.3 million items.

2001 – The System celebrated its fifteenth anniversary with a number of new and exciting projects: installation of assistive technologies to make web resources accessible to persons with vision, hearing, and learning disabilities; market research to help plan a community awareness campaign; and development of a special bookmobile program to serve children in preschool and day care settings. With the help of a increase in State Aid, library open hours increased by 18% and collections grew in both size and depth of coverage.

2002 – The Bookasaurus, the new children’s bookmobile, began making regular visits to Head Starts and other preschool programs. System HQ moved to a rented facility on MacArthur Road near the airport.

2003 – The Friends of the Reading-Berks Public Libraries is reorganized as the Friends of Berks County Public Libraries.

2004 – Spring Township Library joined the System. It later combined with West Lawn-Wyomissing Hills as part of a two-township merger.

2004 –  A 34% reduction in State Aid to Public Libraries occurred, devastating System library budgets. The Rotary Clubs of Reading and West Reading/Wyomissing organized an auction that raised $23,000 for children’s collections. Spring Township Library opened as a System affiliate. An LSTA grant funded installation of an information kiosk, an electronic branch library, in Oley. Pat and Garland Bear were recipients of the Dreisbach Award.

2005 – The Friends of Berks County Public Libraries led an energetic advocacy effort to increase county funding for library services. The Libraries Rock! campaign succeeded in securing a 32% increase in County Aid to member libraries. The Friends received the Dreisbach Award in recognition of their outstanding leadership. In addition, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation provided $144,000 to upgrade computers at all locations.

2007 – System libraries migrated to Horizon, a new enhanced library automation network.

2008 – A new 2009-2011 Long Range Plan was adopted in November which included evaluation of services to the member libraries and to the public. Goals and objectives focus on advocacy, technology, training, marketing, collection development, and outreach to special populations. Early Literacy Stations were installed at every member library location. The ELS is a child-friendly computer loaded with early learning games and school-readiness activities for the county’s youngest library patrons. Nearly 10,000 children, who read a grand total of 467,000 books, participated in 2008’s Catch the Reading Bug! Summer Reading club.

2009 – State public library subsidy funds to libraries was cut by 20%. The impact on Berks libraries was reduced hours and cutbacks in new materials. Additionally, the Statewide Card program was eliminated and significant reductions were made to POWER library, the Access PA database, and the Ask Here PA program. The Community Bookmobile was discontinued in September after more than 30 years of service to rural and suburban residents. Summer Reading 2009, Be Creative @ Your Library, drew over 25,000 kids to programs in libraries countywide and over a half-million books were read.

2010 – System offices moved from MacArthur Road to Berks Road near Berks Heim.

2011 – BCPL launched the Year of the Bookasaurus in December 2011 to celebrate ten years of library service to Berks County preschoolers. Festivities will occur throughout 2012. Reading Public Library introduced downloadable e-books to the public libraries of Berks County. Partnering with Overdrive (an e-book vendor) for $32,000, RPL launched the website in early December with 500 e-books.

2012 – Berks County Libraries joined over 600 Pennsylvania libraries in promoting five essential literacies for personal success. These literacies support information sharing and lifelong learning opportunities in the areas of health, finance, civic awareness, social connections and technology. Our Summer Reading Program, brought over 27,000 people into our libraries to attend more than 1,400 programs. A total of 406,870 books were read and enjoyed over the 10-week program. Computer use increased by 16% in all our county libraries over the previous year.

2013 – A digital magazine platform is added to the suite of electronic resources.

2014 – In an effort aimed at developing early literacy in preschoolers, libraries in the county began participating in the 1000 Books Before Kindergarten initiative. Following in the footsteps of Kutztown Community Library, other libraries to joined the effort. The project is being coordinated by the System’s Youth Services Coordinator. County monies and a grant from United Way have helped underwrite the costs of this project.

2015 – In 2015, Berks County Public Libraries moved circulation systems from SirsiDinyx to Polaris; after months of research, it was determined Polaris was the correct fit for the System and its member libraries due to its robust interface and ease of patron use. This was a large project as the circulation system is one of the most important tools libraries use to serve patrons. After a transition and training period of 2 months, Polaris went live in May of 2015.

2017 – Upon receiving a generous bequest in 2016, the Berks County Public Library System began the process of redesigning and upgrading the website. Efforts focused on library patron and staff inputs through surveys and current website traffic analysis. A team of skilled designers who helped build several other library websites assembled a test site based on the collected data. The project spanned several months and included testing and input from system and library staff. On Wednesday, October 25, 2017, the new berkslibraries.org website officially launched to the public.

2019 – After years of work advocating for an increase in the state budget, Pennsylvania increased state aid by 9.18%. This translated to an increase in all revenue streams for libraries; from district centers to county coordination aid grant funds to general library subsidy increase in that amount. Overall, Berks County received an increase of $150,000 in three different areas of funding.

2020 A few months after the discovery of the COVID-19 virus in 2019, Pennsylvania declared a state of emergency as the virus began to appear in the commonwealth. A statewide shutdown order in March shuttered the doors of many businesses and organizations including libraries. Following guidance issued by the Office of Commonwealth Libraries (OCL), Berks County’s public libraries pivoted their focus to safely reach patrons however they could. Over the course of the pandemic in 2020, libraries adapted their services while adhering to national safety recommendations. This included expanding Wi-Fi access points, increasing the digital library collection, and offering contactless pickup.