more than books
In the summer of 1932, the Mt. Lebanon Lions Club took the lead in establishing a community library. The Lions petitioned Mt. Lebanon to provide the space, networked with other community organizations to raise funds and coordinated with the Boy Scouts for a door-to-door canvass that yielded more than 8,000 used books.
All of these efforts paid off with the dedication of the Mt. Lebanon Public Library on November 15, 1932, with a collection of about 9,000 books and a first-year circulation of 30,162.
The library took up one room on the second floor of the municipal building. Since then, it has evolved into a 26,000-square-foot multimedia community center with more than 1,500 programs a year. The library moved from the municipal building to a new building on Castle Shannon Boulevard across from Mellon Middle School in 1964 and opened its current building on the same spot in 1997.
PARTNERING IN THE COMMUNITY
Library Director Robyn Vittek and her staff and board of directors take pride in the library’s large and varied collection, but their goal is to be a community center that serves the public’s needs, not just a place where people come to borrow books and other materials.
“We don’t want to just be passive receptors,” says Vittek, who became library director in 2015, when longtime director Cynthia Richey retired. “We base our programs on what we see from the community.”
Last year, the library surveyed patrons on what programs and services they would like the library to provide. What the survey respondents wanted most was hands-on learning and programs focusing on culture and wellness. The library began looking for community partners to help them give the patrons what they wanted.
“We saw a lot of opportunities for continuing education that would not compete with what the school district and the recreation department offered,” says program director Sharon Bruni.
The library partnered with local businesses such as Artsmiths to present hands-on arts and crafts classes and the Himalayan Institute for yoga and other wellness programs.
Another successful partnership is Pitt’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, which offers classes for seniors 50 and older.
Recent Osher classes at the library have been improvisational performing, a series of talks on America’s experience in Vietnam, and a discussion of artificial intelligence and robotics. Upcoming programs include the life and works of J.R.R. Tolkien, Pittsburgh sports history and storytelling. Learn more about the Osher Institute at www.cgs.pitt.edu/osher, or find programs on the library’s website, www.mtlebanonlibrary.org.
“We want the library to be the initial place where people can start learning about something,” Vittek says. “We make the introduction and the patrons take it from there.”
The partnerships are good for both parties. A partnership with the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild will allow students to create a raku ceramic item at the library and then travel to the guild to use its kiln, and take advantage of free classes there.
The library’s Global Beats series—part of the municipality’s overall goal of promoting the value of unity and diversity—is another example of programming that introduces people to something they may go on to learn more about. The all-ages programs focus on a different country or region and its culture each month and includes live music, food, dance and conversation with artists. Vittek says the events can attract as many as 200 people.
The library’s Maker Space, a gathering place that inspires learning through creativity, invention and teamwork, has been in place for three years. The space has a craft area with seating for 10 plus an instructor, lots of crafting supplies, a whiteboard, and a sink for cleanup, as well as a computer lab with seating for eight plus an instructor, a 3-D printer, laptops and iPads with digital content creation apps, and a whiteboard wall. There is no charge to use the maker space and people can reserve times to use the space.
Some of the librarians have had special STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Technology) training, by ASSET, a local nonprofit that conducts teacher training. The course taught the librarians the basics of STEAM, best teaching practices, the principles of inquiry-based learning and how to fold all of those concepts into library programs.
The library aims to complement the school district’s curriculum with activities and programs in its maker space. Currently the library offers two levels of coding classes, for third- to fifth-graders and for sixth- through eighth graders. “The elementary schools have maker spaces, as does the high school, but right now there isn’t anything in the middle schools,” Vittek says. “We’re hoping to bridge that gap.”
Matt’s Maker Space, the nonprofit organization founded by David and Noelle Conover in memory of their son, provided the grant that launched the development of the elementary school maker spaces, in 2018, Matt’s Maker Space will offer a series of at least 20 programs in Mt. Lebanon Public Library’s maker space. The library is hosting a kickoff event for the maker programs on January 26.
A first-class public library like Mt. Lebanon’s is a tremendous asset—people have said they moved here or stay here in large part because of the library. But it does not come cheap. “These are challenging times for libraries,” says Bruni.
State funding has been flat for at least 10 years, says Vittek, and revenues from RAD (Allegheny County Regional Asset District, an extra penny tacked onto sales tax in Allegheny County) are not as high as they once were.
“We get very generous support from the municipality,” Vittek says. Last year, Mt. Lebanon allocated $1.2 million to the library, which amounted to 57 percent of its budget. Mt. Lebanon’s first-year appropriation to the library was $500 (about $8,700 in today’s dollars).
A very active Friends of the Library group, with more than 750 members, raises a sizable amount of money with special events such Brews for a Chili Night and the Beer Garden Bash, which brought in a total of more than $13,000 last year. The Friends also run the library’s used book store, the Book Cellar, which brought in almost $65,000 last year. The Library Garden Tour, sponsored by the library board, brought in more than $30,000 this summer.
And remember those first-year numbers, a collection of about 9,000 and circulation of 30,162? Well, last year those numbers were 153,225 and 549,468.
Although there are no current plans for expanding the library’s footprint, Vittek sees lots of room for expanding programming. “We’re bursting at the seams!”
1932 In June, the Lions Club proposed a town library which the club would operate if Mt. Lebanon provided space in the municipal building. Boy Scouts canvassed the community for more than 8,000 books. Members of local organizations and clubs, headed by the Lions Club, solicited gifts of money. The library was dedicated on November 15. The first librarian was Kathryn E. Peoples.
1933 The Mt. Lebanon Commission approved $500 to support the library. By 1936 appropriations were increased to $2,500 and covered the librarians’ salaries. Following Peoples’ resignation that year, Cleone McLaughlin was appointed Librarian. She held the position until 1938, when Ella Daub became librarian.
1939 Volunteer firemen vacated two large rooms on the second floor in the front of the Municipal Building to provide the library with needed extra space.
1943 The library collected books for soldiers and by 1943 had forwarded 659 books to troops overseas.
1955 the Mt. Lebanon Public Library Association was incorporated, and formed a committee to look at the feasibility of expanding. Mt. Lebanon purchased the site of the present building from the Alice B. McEwan estate for $25,000. Local architect Arthur E. Tennyson designed a two-story colonial-style building with an estimated cost of $350,000 for the building and $75,000 for furnishings. The commissioners approved the plan and a $475,000 bond issue was put on the ballot, but voters defeated it in the November 1957 election.
1959 On the recommendation of the League of Women Voters, the Commissioners hired consultants Walter H. Kaiser and Arthur Yarbroff to study library needs. The consultants recommended that a separate and larger facility, adequate to hold 60,000 volumes, be built on the land owned by the township across from Mellon Junior High School.
1961 Architect J. Russell Bailey was hired to plan the new facility. He estimated that a new building with 13,350 square feet completely equipped and with adequate parking space could be built for $315,000, far below the $475,000 proposed in 1957. Mt. Lebanon voters approved a $315,000 bond issue to finance the new library building.
1963 On December 28, the new library building was dedicated. On January 27, 1964, the library opened to the public.
1966 Ella Daub retired and Betty Anne Stroup became the library director. The library added a collection of phonograph records, a microfilm-based charging system, and a copy machine. It started homebound service, and increased its hours of operation.
1988 Betty Anne Stroup retired. Peter Leonard became the library director.
1990 The Friends of the Library contributed $5,000 to start an endowment, the Mt. Lebanon Public Library Fund, under the auspices of The Pittsburgh Foundation. The Library Board held its first Garden Tour to raise money for a building fund for an expanded library.
1993 The Commission issued a bond of $2.5 million to build the library. The library launched its capital campaign on January 24, 1994. Fundraising efforts included a book sale by the Friends of the Library, American Girl Fashion Shows and Tea parties, an Art Auction hosted by the Mt. Lebanon Junior Women’s Club, and a Buy-a-Brick campaign. More than 4,000 donors contributed, and pledges surpassed $700,000. Additional funding came from the Allegheny Regional Asset District; Pennsylvania State legislative grants; the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation fund; and the Federal Library Service and Construction Act, Title II.
1995 The library relocated temporarily to the former Medical Rescue Team South Authority building on Washington Road as temporary quarters for the library. Groundbreaking for the Mt. Lebanon Public Library Expansion was held October 5.
1996 Peter Leonard resigned and Cynthia Richey, head of children’s services, became library director.
1997 The new library opened on June 21. the $4.2 million glass, brick, and aluminum structure contained three meeting rooms, four quiet study rooms, alcoves for casual reading, shelves for 140,000
2015 Director Cynthia K. Richey retired and Robyn Vittek became the library director.