June 18, 2018

Best Small Library in America 2006: Milanof-Schock Library, Mount Joy, PA-Everyone's Hitching Post

Milanof-Schock Library, Mount Joy, PA

By John N. Berry III — Library Journal, 02/01/2006

The used van that delivers the books from the Milanof-Schock Library (MSL), in Mount Joy, Lancaster County, PA, had just arrived at the nursing home. A retired school teacher who was “homebound” there asked if MSL could bring her some children’s board books, the very easy books for very young kids. “Sure,” said the librarian, “why do you want those?” The teacher told her that a 50-year-old woman with multiple sclerosis had been wrongly diagnosed as being retarded. “She was never given the opportunity to learn to read,” said the teacher. “I want to teach her.”

The reading student had progressed to second grade books when the library van arrived several weeks later. When the librarian came by, the woman couldn’t contain herself. “Look, look!” she shouted excitedly. “Jim and Judy Go to the Beach. I can read that book!”

MSL director Herb Landau, a refugee from big-time publishing and printing, grew up in the Bronx, studied at New York City’s Hunter College, and got his MLS at the now-defunct School of Library Service at Columbia University. He bought that van, an aging Ford Econoline, for $800 in an eBay auction. The local Western Auto store refurbished it, pro bono, and a local sign painter drew “Reads on Wheels” across the side. It is so popular in the region that a local TV station sent a camera crew and reporter along to record one trip.

One 98-year-old homebound retiree borrowed a computer from MSL, and the library sent a tutor out to teach her to use it. She was overjoyed when she beat the machine at solitaire. Then she borrowed a video player because she hadn’t seen a movie in 15 years. She borrowed South Pacific and was seen crying as “Some Enchanted Evening” was sung. The MSL Reads on Wheels program has delivered books and AV materials of all kinds to some 200 homebound individuals.

Reads on Wheels is only one small example of the way MSL hustles to serve the needs of a diverse and growing community and for a mere $10.86 per capita. The purchase and refurbishing of the van are typical of the creativity with which MSL people approach library service. It was the first clue that MSL might be the Best Small Library of the Year in 2006, cosponsored by LJ and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The community center

Most of the local and county officials are farmers or “gentleman farmers” in the MSL service area, which includes five communities that make up the Donegal School District in Lancaster County. There are a few more than 20,000 residents in the 50 square mile district, and MSL is the only library serving them. The individualistic farm culture coupled with deeply conservative values and staunch but diverse religious beliefs makes it difficult for the towns in the area to undertake community solutions or build community agencies. Libraries are not well supported, even when they are heavily used. Yet MSL has become the core of the community.

“There are no community centers, no senior centers or youth centers. We have to serve all those purposes,” says Landau. “We have become the community center, almost by default,” he says, describing the role of MSL. When the Chamber of Commerce wanted to have an annual business barbecue, it was held on the library lawn. When the Lions Club, of which Landau has been president, wanted a place to collect eyeglasses for its annual drive, the box was put at MSL. The literacy council meets at MSL four times a week, helping immigrants learn English and local folks who have trouble reading.

The library’s community education programs have expanded from five to 50 a month to meet demand from a broad constituency. They include everything from reading for babies to the senior computing programs but place a special emphasis on the needs of community residents unserved by any other public education or information agency—not only the 200 homebound people but pre- and homeschoolers and thousands of adults. The library lends toys and puzzles to thousands of preschool children.

MSL serves two groups of the Society of Farm Women, locally known as the “farm wives,” which meet in the library. As the business managers of most of the farms, they gather to compare notes, share tips, and solve mutual problems. Lancaster County is the second most productive agricultural county in the United States.

Serving a community with a large Amish population presents special challenges. MSL strives to provide a collection that includes materials reflecting Amish customs and beliefs, while not leaving other views out. Just as important, Landau and a board member have had a functional hitching post installed in the library parking area so the horses and buggies of Amish library users don’t clog up the bicycle racks and far enough from the walks and doors so the “road apples” won’t mess up the place. Landau has even learned what he calls “Pennsylvania German,” the language spoken by many in the region.

Serve all, subscribe to none

There are other faiths in large numbers in the MSL constituency. Some 15 sects of Anabaptists, Mennonites, and/or Amish, a very old Jewish congregation, Huguenots, and lots of Quakers live in the county. One of the few religious groups born in the United States, the Susquehanna River Brethren, is an Anabaptist group that requires members to be baptized in the waterway.

In short, the MSL service area is inhabited by many conservative Christians. The board and Landau hold with the policy that MSL represents all views and subscribes to none. The controversy over “intelligent design” forced MSL to add materials on that view and creationism.

“We try to balance the collection,” says Landau. “The staff and I walk a tightrope, and there are occasional contests.” A painting of a nude in a seraglio that hangs in the Louvre also illustrates the cover of John Updike’s Villages, causing some of MSL’s users to complain.

As diversity packs even more people into MSL, the library makes itself receptive in ways other libraries often eschew. In an unheard of willingness to be in loco parentis, MSL provides a daytime shelter and volunteer work for latchkey children when school is out. MSL welcomes homeschool parents and their children to use the facility for group art, science, and computer courses. The local history society holds its lectures and folk arts demonstrations in the library. MSL is the only outside site where citizens can purchase trash collection permits in Mount Joy. The Literacy Council and other remedial tutors use MSL facilities to instruct immigrants and others. MSL offers the only free online computer access in the region.

They meet at MSL

To foster understanding between new immigrants and the established community, MSL initiated a monthly Ethnic Food and Culture Series, where new immigrants are invited to share their culture and cuisine with folks from their new community. Immigrants from Kenya, Ethiopia, El Salvador, Vietnam, Costa Rica, Thailand, Japan, Norway, and other nations have participated in the series.

To add to that program load, MSL hosts the meetings of the local Chamber of Commerce, Mount Joy Police Department, Redevelopment Authority, Donegal Soccer Team, Speakers Bureau, Moms Club, Girl Scouts, Regional Recreation Commission, Poets Club, Chess Club, Investment Club, Sheetz Corporation, Highmark Blue Shield, Wyeth Laboratories, a family reunion, and more. The library provides all the tax forms (county, state, and federal) and instruction booklets, and it is the primary site for most area government and nonprofit questionnaire survey ­collection.

Technology for all

MSL has about 30 public access computers. Ten were bought with a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which cosponsors this award. Ten were contributed by Highmark Blue Shield. Gates also donated software and additional apparatus. It was the first public library in Pennsylvania to lend laptops. The staff have given computer classes to more than 1000 seniors. With its own ten-course syllabus and a $46,000 Library Services and Technology Act grant, the library teaches computer technology to many handicapped seniors both at their homes and in the library.

In a special partnership, computer specialists from Pennsylvania State University evaluate the MSL computer courses and help with grant applications and with other educational programs at MSL.

The library currently has three web sites. To its main web site (www.mslibrary.org), which deals with standard library operations including online renewal of books, MSL has added a special site for seniors (www.mslibrary.org/seniors) and a site to celebrate the centenary of Einstein’s breakthrough year and devoted to science (www.mslibrary.org/einstein.php).

Fundraising and support

About 48 percent of MSL’s annual budget ($226,700 in 2005) comes from state, county, and local government. That percentage varies, and the library is still seeking stable funding. Each year MSL asks the municipalities it serves for money. There is no line item for libraries in the budget of any of the towns. MSL asks anew every year. A May referendum to put a line item for libraries in the Lancaster County budget narrowly failed (54 percent against). Landau attributes the loss to a tax revolt in Pennsylvania. Only about a quarter of the MSL budget comes from the five municipalities.

The board of MSL is a tax-exempt not-for-profit corporation under section 501c3 of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code in a state where there is no state law mandating tax money for libraries. There is little tax support available, although each of the five municipalities served by MSL provides an annual grant of $60,000 to the library; another $75,000 comes from other government grants and from foundations.

There are 13 independent libraries in Lancaster County, including MSL. The county appropriates $2 million a year for the Library System of Lancaster County (LSLC). As a voluntary member under an annually negotiated contract, MSL receives many services, including all technology support from the LSLC roving techies, plus all technical services, acquisitions, cataloging, and book preparation. LSLC also maintains a countywide Online Public Access Catalog (OPAC) and a centralized circulation system to allow issuance of county library cards. There is also interlibrary loan courier service and support for training, public relations, reference, and youth services. There are rotating special collections, and LSLC bookmobiles visit areas lacking an assigned library.

Pennsylvania’s Library Code does mandate levels of service that are required for a library to be eligible for state aid. “The state, county, and local governments here really don’t support us that well,” says Landau.

Scrambling for dollars

That means Landau and the MSL Board have to scramble to raise 52 percent of MSL’s operating funds, and scramble they do. Landau says he spends about half of his time on fundraising, including writing grants, going to foundations, and speaking to community groups and service clubs. Members of his board do the same. In addition to two major direct-mail fundraising campaigns, one to businesses and one to individuals that result in nearly 9000 letters, MSL mounts hundreds of local fundraising events and requests grants from many foundations.

“When the state cut library budgets a while back, I began to study fundraising techniques,” Landau says. “The only two we haven’t tried here are pay toilets and slot machines.”

The annual benefit auction nets $15,000 a year, and an annual direct mail appeal to individuals and business brings in another $20,000. Every year local businesses donate over $15,000 in goods and services for the auction, including an automobile.

The library’s book sales, which yield more than $20,000 a year, not only take place at the annual April event but also at the Friends Bookstore and by the Friends of MSL on eBay. More than 20,000 books are donated by local citizens every year.

In a unique partnership, the local public school teachers union solicits donations for MSL via payroll deductions. Every local service club (Lions, Rotary, Kiwanis, VFW, American Legion, Masons, Business & Professional Women, Society of Farm Women, Speakers Bureau, and others) donates cash or items to be auctioned or used by MSL.

MSL gets $30 per passport issued, by providing space for a U.S. State Department Passport Application Agency. The Mount Joy municipality, where the library is located, waives MSL charges for water, sewer, and trash collection.

MSL’s antiques appraisal fair was covered on local TV and drew residents from three counties. In addition, a flea market is held by MSL in its parking lot. The library received $500 from the Bed & Breakfast Association by hosting a Susquehanna Romantic Inns Food Festival. In the MSL Friends Bookstore patrons can also buy the works of local artists and artisans. The new MSL building was constructed in 1999 with $1.5 million raised by the community.

Begun by Girl Scouts

MSL was started in 1964 as a project of the Girl Scouts, who used an old panel truck to deliver bookmobile service in Mount Joy and environs. They rented a storefront, setting up a library run by volunteers. One volunteer, who worked in the library for years, was visiting nurse Anne Milanof. One of her patients was of the Bachman family, owners of a big chocolate company in town. (About half of the chocolate made in the United States is made within 50 miles of MSL, according to Landau.) Mrs. Bachman left a substantial amount of money to Anne Milanof, and when Milanof died, she endowed MSL. Clarence Schock founded an oil company in Mount Joy, SICO, and the SICO Foundation he established matched Milanof’s ­contribution.

The MSL staff include only two full-time members and seven part-timers. They are helped by some 20 volunteers who range in age from ten to 80. This small complement explains how MSL can provide so much service with so little.

The story of MLS is the story of squeezing a great deal of library service out of $10.86 a head. It is the story of finding new, creative ways to be the center of a geographically expansive area, a deeply conservative and religious yet very diverse community. It is the story of building a library and a service to fit the needs of a place and the people who pay for it, partly in cash freely given and partly through their taxes. It is the story of the Best Small Library in America in 2006.

John N. Berry III is Editor-In-Chief, LJ

Best Small Library in America 2006


The Milanof-Schock Library was in great company among the over 50 libraries nominated for the second annual Best Small Library in America award. From tiny start-ups serving remote towns to those pushing the 25,000 pop-served limit, these libraries indicate the richness of library service across the United States. Among the nominees several feature the services, programs, tech savvy, and commitment to community that signify the Best Small Library in America:

Dolores Public Library District Dolores, CO
Carole Arnold, Director

Immokalee Branch Library Collier County Public Library System, FL
Tanya W. Saldivar, Branch Manager


LJ thanks the following library professionals who volunteered their valuable time to help select this year’s winner:

Clara Bohrer Director, West Bloomfield Township Public Library, MI; Public Library Association past president
Kara Hannigan Program Officer, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Deborah Jacobs City Librarian, Seattle Public Library, LJ Librarian of the Year 1994
Ann Myren Director, Haines Borough Public Library, LJ Best Small Library in America 2005
Bernard Vavrek Director, Center for the Study of Rural Librarianship and Professor of Library Science, Clarion University of Pennsylvania

The panel also includes LJ staff: John N. Berry III, Lynn Blumenstein, Francine Fialkoff, Bette-Lee Fox, Rebecca Miller, Norman Oder, & Michael Rogers


LJ’s annual award, cosponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, was created to encourage and showcase the exemplary work of libraries serving populations under 25,000. The winning library will receive a $10,000 cash award from the Gates Foundation, conference costs for two library representatives to attend the next Public Library Association meeting, a gala reception at PLA, and more. For guidelines for the 2007 award, please contact Rebecca Miller at miller@reedbusiness.com; 646-746-6725; or go to www.libraryjournal.com and click on About Us.