10 things to know about the Jefferson County Library Cooperative, with executive director Tobin Cataldo

Birmingham, Alabama, Jefferson County Library Cooperative, Tobin Cataldo
Tobin Cataldo. Photo by Bham Now

This month, a new executive director, Tobin Cataldo, steps to the helm of the Jefferson County Library Cooperative. So what is the cooperative anyway, and how does it tie into your public municipal library? Bham Now has the scoop.

“The Jefferson County Library Cooperative exists to provide better library services than a municipal library could on its own, and to try to find cost savings through economies of scale, collaboration and shared platforms.”

Tobin Cataldo, executive director, JCLC

The Basics

1. 40 years, 40 libraries.

Founded in 1978, the Jefferson County Library Cooperative is a voluntary collaboration among 40 member libraries across 22 municipalities. Nineteen of those are part of the Birmingham Public Library. (Learn more about the JCLC’s 40th anniversary.)

2. It’s a supporting role.

Birmingham, Hoover, Homewood, Vestavia Hills and all other municipal public libraries—they come first. “The JCLC should be underneath, helping boost everybody up,” Cataldo said.  

3. A small but dedicated crew.

The JCLC staff includes the executive director, an administrative assistant/office manager, the administrator of the ILS (integrated library system), a full-time cataloguer, IT support, a PC technician and a handful of part-time staff. They serve under the governance of the JCLC Board of Directors. 


Birmingham, Alabama, Jefferson County Libraries Cooperative, bookmobile
Jefferson County libraries have changed a lot since the days of the bookmobile, which served our communities from the 1920s through the 1970s. Photo via Jefferson County Libraries Cooperative’s Facebook page

4. There have been only three executive directors. 
Cataldo has big shoes to fill. His predecessor, Patricia Ryan, served from 1997 to 2018. Before Ryan came George Stewart, JCLC’s first executive director, who served from 1977 to 1997. Get the full history.

“One of my favorite memories of being director of the JCLC was in 1998 when Alabama accepted the Gates Library Foundation Initiative as their first state project to improve technology in public libraries.” 

Patricia Ryan, retired executive director, JCLC
2014 PRyanSouthernHistoryShot 10 things to know about the Jefferson County Library Cooperative, with executive director Tobin Cataldo
Patricia Ryan. Photo submitted

Library Trends and Challenges

“We’re at an interesting point. Funding’s going down for libraries, and we’re trying to add more services, materials and opportunity for the community.” 


5. Circulation is down.
That’s a national trend that holds true for Jefferson County. The exception is the Linn Henley Research library and its archives, which remain a bastion of genealogical research and Southern history.

6. Multiple formats are in demand. 
While circulation is down, more formats of each book are needed to reach everyone, such as audio books, e-books, large-print books and hardbacks. More formats = more cost.

7. Programs are up.
Jefferson County citizens rely on their city public libraries for youth classes and workforce development, including computer classes. The Birmingham Public Library, for example, collaborates with the UAB School of Engineering on a program that teaches teens engineering concepts.

8. Budgets are tightening.
Yep, libraries feel the crunch, too. And they’re trying to do more with less. Helping municipal libraries face this challenge while providing better services is at the core of what Cataldo sees as the JCLC’s role going forward.

Birmingham, Alabama, Jefferson County Libraries Cooperative
There are 1,455 public and staff computers in municipal libraries throughout Jefferson County. Photo via Jefferson County Libraries Cooperative’s Facebook page

The Future

“Anytime we can demonstrate collaboration effectively across borders, I believe we’re all better for it.” 


9. The goal: increased cost savings and value for libraries in the cooperative through economies of scale, collaboration and shared platforms.

Over the last four decades, the JCLC has collaborated with city libraries to introduce efficiencies, cost savings, standardization and less duplication of services. Examples include the ILS (integrated library system) and OverDrive, a shared platform for e-books and audio books, which reduces costs for individual libraries.

Expect that tradition to continue and grow under Cataldo’s leadership, with an emphasis on the cooperative delivering value that member libraries can see on their bottomline.

“I think we’re going to have a mind shift about what the JCLC is over the next 10 years, and how libraries are changing in terms of technology and expectations of consumers. particularly in terms of on-demand access to information. 

“We can help facilitate the exchange of ideas and knowledge. Hoover or Homewood Library, for example, can come and share what they’ve learned with the group. That can create awareness of what’s possible and what’s working for other people.”

Birmingham, Alabama, Jefferson County Libraries Cooperative, JCLC, Tobin Cataldo
Tobin Cataldo. Photo submitted

10. What’s the new executive director looking forward to?
“I’m excited to be working with some great people in the county. There are some really smart, intelligent people who love libraries,” Cataldo said.

More on Cataldo

Cataldo holds a master’s of library science from the School of Library and Information Management at Emporia State University. He worked for the Birmingham Public Library for 13 years. Most recently, he served as collections management coordinator, which entailed working closely with the Jefferson County Library Cooperative. He enters the executive director role with an understanding of the service offerings of JCLC and its relationships with municipal libraries across Jefferson County. 

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