Sorting through boxes of books, are from left, Daria Och, Sarah Berardine, Jackie Nguyen, Ali Marx and Matt Doyle, all freshmen. They were working in the library of Pittsburgh Carmalt Academy of Science & Technology, where the students collected about 1,300 donated books.
By Debra Duncan
Baldwin High School students have delivered about 1,300 children's books to Pittsburgh School District's Carmalt school in Brookline. At last Friday's delivery, the high-schoolers made it a work day, too, and helped clean and stock the shelves and catalog the new arrivals.
Luke Dowker, a senior, is co-president of the Literary Guild book club that sponsored the drive.
"I grew up where there always were books -- at home, at the library, at school," he said. "But many of the kids at the public elementary schools haven't had that. So by donating these books, we hope they get to experience some of that literature."
Luke donated some of his favorite childhood books, including four books from the "Superfudge" series by Judy Blume. The stories focus on a 4th grade boy and his 4-year-old brother Fudge, who is always in trouble.
"My grandmother was an elementary school teacher and she first told me about them," he said.
Keith Harrison, an English teacher and sponsor of the high school's book club, came up with the idea.
He saw a campaign by a Pittsburgh school librarian to collect books for Pittsburgh Manchester elementary school on the Northside, and thought it would be a good service project for the Baldwin club.
When he contacted Pittsburgh School District librarian Sheila May-Stein, she said Pittsburgh Carmalt Academy of Science and Technology in the South Hills also was in dire need of new books.
That's when the 40 Baldwin students high school Literary Guild responded in a big way, collecting the children's books over six weeks.
"I live in the North Hills, in Shaler," said Mr. Harrison, 46, "and I thought maybe we'd have a two-week book drive, and I could put 100 or 300 books in the back of my car and drop them off at the Manchester school [where students originally planned to donate]. But they kept coming, and coming, and pretty soon my room was filled with boxes of books.
"Then, the National Honor Society got involved, and then the Parent Teacher Student Association,'' he said. "It was a perfect fit for us, since the whole purpose of our club is to celebrate and encourage reading.''
Mr. Harrison said the students in the club ''have been avid readers all their lives, so many went home and collected the books they have outgrown.
He said most of the donated books are in ''really good shape.''
"This Baldwin teacher reached out to me, and these kids were moved to donate," said Mrs. Stein, who is a floating librarian for the city schools and is working to rehab some of the district's libraries. "The kids were shocked and saddened by the state of this library.
"Carmalt school is a science and technology school, so they have computers in the library. But what they didn't have is books.
"I just weeded out the old books, and many are outdated, from the 1960s -- some say the Soviet Union is the largest country in the world. And a lot of the fiction books had broken bindings. So there were about seven books left on a shelf."
Carmalt has about 600 students in prekindergarten through 8th grade, and is a racially diverse school, Mrs. Stein said.
"This effort was a great use of social media," Mr. Harrison said.
He first saw a blog on the website yinzercation.wordpress.com, a site devoted to public education issues in the Pittsburgh region. Mrs. Stein was seeking donations for the Pittsburgh Manchester school library. Along with a picture of empty book shelves, she said, "If a picture is worth a thousand words, let's make this picture worth a thousand books."
"It went viral," he said, and after she posted a wish list for books on Amazon.com, response to the plea was worldwide, too.
Sam's Club executives got involved, and arranged for new paint, a mural, and new carpeting and lighting for the school's library. That book drive netted more than 1,000 books.
Mr. Harrison posted the link to his Facebook page and the school's Facebook page, he said.
Mrs. Stein, 45, said, "Pittsburgh came out in force, donations are still coming in for the Manchester library.
"I'm a transplant to Pittsburgh, I'm originally from California, and I am just blown away by Pittsburgers. This story won't stop, and it just seems like that's what Pittsburghers do, they help. Pittsburghers step up. This story is a testament to the humanity of people here," she continued.
Mrs. Stein said she is still hoping that someone in the community might step up to help update the Carmalt library room, as well.
"It's absolutely hideous," she said of the aging facility. The old turquoise paint on the walls is peeling, exposing large white patches.
"I'd love it if some millionaire would step up the way Sam's Club did for Manchester," she said.
There is a sad part to the story, she said.
Mrs. Stein said the Pittsburgh School District doesn't have enough librarians to staff its elementary libraries regulary.
"With recent budget cuts, the school district only has 14 librarians for 51 schools," she said. So most travel each week to five different schools.
She said a librarian is at Carmalt maybe once every five or six days.
"Teachers don't always have the time, and they may not know how to check out the books," she said.
For those who would like to pick out one of their favorite childhood books to donate to Carmalt, there is a wish list of books on Amazon.com. Go to http://amzn.com/w/TBACBYM6MJ31.