Longtime Glenshaw librarian passes torch

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Vintage wedding dresses displayed inside the 120-year-old Glenshaw Public Library on Butler Plank Road in Shaler may offer patrons ghostly reminders of the past, but Sandy Russell, the new librarian, said she will continue efforts to keep things current.

Violet Rowe, 87, retired June 1 after 47 years as librarian and historian at the library, which owns a collection of pictures on the wall and in scrapbooks of the early days of Glenshaw, a Shaler neighborhood.

Ms. Russell of Shaler was appointed her successor.

"I hope to preserve a lot of what Vi has done," Ms. Russell said. "But I'm also trying to find more ways to bring people in, start new programs, increase circulation and get more exposure."

Ms. Russell, mother of two grown sons, manages the speech, language and pathology department at Duquesne University. She has a bachelor of science degree in professional studies from Duquesne and a master's degree in library and information science from the University of Pittsburgh.

She knew about the library but hadn't used it when she saw a job posting at Pitt for the librarian's position, she said.

When Ms. Russell became librarian, she relied on Mrs. Rowe's experience and knowledge.

"I begged her to stay and tell me stories about the area," she said.

She is overseeing and participating in refurbishing the library, where Eagle Scouts helped paint the first floor. She also is busy cleaning the rooms and waxing floors.

"I hope to have the children's room ready in February," she said.

Ms. Russell's enthusiasm is obvious as she tells about plans and the help volunteers provide, including Pitt and high school students.

An outreach program has begun at three daycare centers, where Marianne Altenbaugh, a retired librarian from the Shaler Area schools, reads to the children. An art class will be held one Saturday a month starting in January, and a quilter's group meets on Monday evenings.

"I truly love this. I'm enjoying painting and giving it some TLC," she said.

Mrs. Rowe, whose husband, Bill, died in 2008, said she misses the library, but her failing eyesight caused her to have difficulty filing the library cards and placing orders. After she stopped driving, her son drove her to work for awhile, but then she thought it best to step down.

She still serves on the library board, which runs the facility that receives no financial support from the township. The main source of revenue is rent from an apartment in the rear of the first floor.

Mrs. Rowe was recruited for the job in 1965 by board member Carolyn Shaw Tatum, who lived nearby with her sister, Katherine, in the homestead of the Shaw family for whom Glenshaw is named.

The library, which has 1,118 card holders now, was started in the 1890s by a pastor of Glenshaw Valley Presbyterian Church, which is on the original Shaw property.

"The minister had book parties and distributed books he had collected after prayer meetings. He left the books at the church and owners of the unused building let the women move there and use the first floor rent free," Mrs. Rowe said.

The tiny white structure was built as a men's lodge, and when it closed, 12 businessmen had bought what was known as the "white elephant." They allowed the library to move in about 1902, according to records.

Martha Shaw was the first librarian and the first floor front room is named the Mary Simmons Room in honor of the librarian who served from 1913 to 1938. The book collection was moved to the second floor and the library board bought the building in 1944.

Mrs. Rowe's interest in history began with a program presented by the Glenshaw Valley Presbyterian Church's couples class.

"I started to research history of the area and the church's beginnings. Carolyn (Shaw Tatum) had Shaw clothes from the 1800s, and it boomeranged into a big event. With word of mouth, it just grew and we took up a collection and donated it for the church's education building," she said.

Mrs. Rowe remembers how third- to eighth-grade pupils would walk from Glenshaw School to the library.

"Every Friday was library day for Glenshaw School children, but when Busy Beaver moved in along Butler Plank Road, it was too dangerous for them to walk there. So we packed up books for each class and a Shaler truck took them to the school and brought them back," she said.

She expanded the adult book collection and carried the best sellers. An author on her own, she wrote a pictorial book, "Glenshaw," in the Images of America series. The book contains pictures of the Glenshaw area from 1800 to the 1940s and is available at the library.

She was disappointed when her application for historic landmark status for the library building was turned down. Although she misses working there, her three children and two grandchildren keep her busy, she said.

Library hours are 5-7 p.m. Tuesday, 6-8 p.m. Wednesday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.

Information: www.glenshawpubliclibrary.org.


Virginia Miller, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com. First Published November 29, 2012 10:45 AM


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