Library's award rooted in Shaler community

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Shaler North Hills Library was among five libraries and five museums across the U.S. to win a national honor this year, but to earn the National Medal for Museum and Library Service it had to have the support of the entire community.

For the Nov. 14 ceremony, the award presentation was attended by library director Sharon McRae, volunteer Janet Miller and staff members Karen Hathaway (children's librarian), Marie Jackson (adult services) and Ingrid Kalchthaler (youth services).

They were joined by David Shutter, Shaler commissioner and Shaler North Hills Library board member, and U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire, D-McCandless.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services bestows the honor on five libraries and five museums each year. It is the nation's highest honor for service to the community and it honors institutions that make a difference for individuals, families, and communities.

Library patron Sandy Devonshire nominated her hometown library last year while attending a book festival in Washington, D.C.

The former second grade teacher who is retired from the Pittsburgh Public School District, was perusing the booths at the National Book Festival with husband Jim Anuszkiewicz when she saw about the annual honor program for libraries and museums accompanied by a sign asking, "Do you know a wonderful library?"

"Absolutely I do," she said to herself as she filled out the nomination form. "At that time, I didn't know what a big deal it was."

What Mrs. Devonshire did know was how important the library was to her life.

She had worked there for a few years,she met her husband there and as an employee, she helped her neighbors and Shaler Area School District students pick out books they needed or wanted to read.

Now retired from both jobs, Mrs. Devonshire was surprised at the response of her nomination.

When her friends and former coworkers at the library thanked her and explained the importance of the national honor, Mrs. Devonshire accepted with an astonished, "Gee, did I do that?"

Head librarian Sharon McRae was astounded as well. When the library was notified of the nomination last December, she said: "It was the first time I had ever heard of it."

Ms. McRae was flattered by Mrs. Devonshire's words of praise, noting that the nomination talked about what the library does for children in the community with the amount of money it receives.

State budget cuts in 2010 forced the library to seek creative ways to provide quality library services with volunteers supplementing a lean staff.

"We really changed how we worked," Mrs. McRae said. Volunteers were recruited to shelve books and take on many other important tasks. Local businesses came on board to sponsor some programs and also provided donations.

One aspect that didn't change was financial support from the township.

"They have been tremendous," she said, adding that residents have been generous in answering the library's annual appeals for funding.

"This is a wonderful place to live," she continued. "I can't say enough about the township, school district and the community. It really is a community effort and we've been cognizant of what our community wants us to do. If they didn't come in, we wouldn't exist."

When the Institute called Ms. McRae in June, asking for more information, she immediately turned to Janet Miller, a volunteer who helps with the teen room -- a popular place and convenient to the middle school, which is next door.

On the nomination form, Mrs. Miller described the important role the library has played in her life.

"I volunteer doing whatever they need me to do," said the Etna grandmother who uses walking sticks to help her get around. She started with the basics such as sealing envelopes and now is in her third year supervising teens after school.

neigh_north

Rita Michel, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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