Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall in Carnegie.
By Bob Podurgiel
As executive director of the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall, Maggie Forbes faced some difficult decisions for 2017: drastically cut the library’s hours of operation to 20 hours a week, close entirely or become a branch of another library outside of Carnegie.
She appealed to Carnegie council for help, and council came through last week with a 7-0 vote to double funding from $35,000 a year to $70,000.
“We weren’t crying wolf. We would have closed,” Ms. Forbes said. “For the first time in 115 years, we have a stable source of income.”
“The new funding allows us to live within our means. The library had been borrowing $30,000 a year to remain open, a course that was unsustainable,” she said, adding that she is also excited about the possibility of extending hours and creating more children’s programming.
The need for programs geared to children is greater now since the Carlynton School District, which serves Carnegie, recently closed its school library, she said.
“It was a team effort,” she said of the push to obtain funding for the library. “The library board of trustees, and the residents turned out to support the library. Over fifty people came to the Dec. 12 [council] meeting. They had to bring in more chairs.”
Council president Pat Catena said the vote to increase funding was one of the easiest decisions he has had to make.
“The library is a treasured asset. Everyone speaks very highly of the library, and I received numerous emails from people who talked about how the library was an important part of their growing up in Carnegie,” he said.
“We were short in our funding for the library in comparison to other municipalities. It was a dire situation. The increased funding was an injection that the library needed to keep moving forward,” he said.
Ms. Forbes noted the amount that other communities about the size of Carnegie donate to their libraries: Bellevue, $92,000; Dormont, $88,818; and Crafton, $75,000.
Mr. Catena and Councilman Michael Sarsfield said another reason they voted to increase funding was because the library serves residents who can’t afford computers.
“I know personally three people who found jobs after using the computers at the library where they received help from the staff in writing their resumes,” Mr. Sarsfield said.
Ms. Forbes said it seems as though nearly everyone in Carnegie has some memory or connection to the Beechwood Avenue library.
Sometimes, those memories go beyond books and computers.
Mr. Sarsfield said while growing up in Carnegie, he was a member of a boxing club that met in the library basement, where club members had access to a full-sized boxing ring and equipment.
One member of the club, Kenny Bryant, went on to win a Silver Gloves and Golden Gloves boxing championship and now owns a successful boxing gym, Mr. Sarsfield said, .
Ms. Forbes noted that the 35,000-square-foot library building also houses the Captain Thomas Espy Post No. 153 of the Grand Army of the Republic, one of the most significant Civil War historical sites in the country; the Lincoln Gallery, showcasing 100 photographs of President Abraham Lincoln; and an music hall where plays, dance performances and other arts programming is staged.
“Events at the music hall bring a lot of people into town,” Mr. Catena said, and they patronize borough businesses.
Bob Podurgiel, freelance writer: email@example.com.
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