RCLS Home page | Library Catalog
Skip to Main Content

RCLS: About the Ramapo Catskill Library System: History

RCLS History

It was after passage of the legislation of 1958 permitting the formation of cooperative library systems that the libraries now comprising the Ramapo Catskill Library System realized an ambition dating back to 1948 when regional libraries for New York State were under discussion. On November 17, 1959, 25 public libraries in Orange, Rockland, Sullivan and Ulster Counties voted to establish a cooperative library system, designating the Newburgh Free Library as the Central Reference Library. On June 25, 1965, the Board of Regents granted Ramapo Catskill Library System a permanent charter.1

The proposed area to be served was 2,506.6 square miles with a population of 300,073. With the addition of 22 more libraries over the intervening years, the total membership has expanded to 47.  The population now served has grown to 858,351 (2020 US Census).  The current headquarters of 619 North Street (Route 17M), Middletown was purchased in December 1961.

The 1960s saw the realization of a truly cooperative system with the development of the union catalog of book holdings and establishment of a Delivery Service. During the 1970s RCLS led the State in automation by providing automated MARC records for the union catalog. The System began coordinated book ordering for member libraries. RCLS’ Outreach Program to the print disabled population – Radio Vision, the radio reading service for the blind and physically handicapped – went on the air October 1, 1979. With the purchase of an offset press, the RCLS Print Shop was established.

The 1980s brought the creation of ANSER (Automated Network SERvices), and all member libraries received computers with modems and printers. RCLS, along with the other 21 systems in the state, contended with level state funding and realized a reduction in staff. The 1990s ushered in the creation of an RCLS Web site (RCLS.org) providing the ability to access the RCLS database of member libraries’ holdings & the electronic means for patrons to request library materials from home. Coordinated book ordering for member libraries gave way to electronic ordering by individual libraries.

Entry into the 21st Century brought new leadership and further technological advances, along with an expansion of services provided by RCLS to the member libraries.  RCLS began hosting educational programs for library staff and Boards of Trustees at their offices in Middletown.  Emphasis on partnerships with various library and community organizations afforded new opportunities.  Advocacy became a more pivotal element of the System’s work as the library sector continued to face funding challenges. 

2019 brought a nationwide health crisis lasting several years, throughout which RCLS provided guidance to aid member libraries in instituting innovative ways to continue serving their communities.  Initiatives undertaken by the System in recent years include the addition of an RCLS Marketing Department and a commitment to Sustainability – embodying practices that are environmentally sound, economically feasible, and socially equitable.  Strategic focus has been on cooperative efforts to bolster Digital Literacy and Digital Equity for the communities we serve; a continued concentration on ensuring access to services for underserved and disadvantaged populations; and the addition of a Government Relations Specialist to enhance our relationships with the local, county, State and National electorate.  Interwoven in all its work, RCLS upholds its commitment to ensuring equity and access.

REV 11-2023

1 Mrs. Eleanor C. Harris, Director and Sumner F. White, Assistant Director. A Profile… Ramapo Catskill Library System. Reprint from The Bookmark, 1963 – 66. State Ed Department, April 1996.

RCLS Executive Directors

Elena Horton (1959-1965)

Alfred L. Freund (1972-1985)

Robert Hubsher (2000-2019)

Eleanor Harris (1965-1969)

James B. Nelson (1986-1987)

Grace Riario (2019-

Robert E. Thomas (1969-1972)

Richard V. Anglin (1987-2000)