A quick look at the children's department of Mt. Lebanon Public Library serves as evidence of its staff's dedication to youngsters and their families.
The size of an entire library in some communities, the children's area offers an array of materials, from traditional books to technologically advanced items, along with plenty of space for a variety of activities.
The resources available reflect the importance that staff members place on providing an educational, nurturing environment for the library's youngest patrons.
Library director Cynthia Richey, 63, started her career as a teenage volunteer working with children, and she has continued to make them a major emphasis. For her continuing efforts, she has been named the 2013 recipient of the Distinguished Service Award from the Association for Library Service to Children.
"I absolutely loved being a children's librarian," the Mt. Lebanon woman said about her early professional years. "I saw how you could make a difference in those children's lives, really help them be ready to succeed in school. That's when I became committed to children's services."
She worked at Pleasant Hills Library and, after earning her master's degree from the University of Pittsburgh, at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in Squirrel Hill. There, she helped expand what was offered to young children.
"The public library really is the preschooler's door to learning," she said. "Early childhood education, early childhood literacy and family literacy are key components of public library service."
She started with Mt. Lebanon as children's librarian in 1983.
"I became the director in 1996, but I've always held dear children's services, and as director have always emphasized the importance of that and have sought ways to improve and expand what we do for children and their families, youth and teens," said Ms. Richey.
She has seen plenty of change during her career, much of it positive.
"Technology is one of the best things that's ever happened to public libraries, for several reasons," she explained. "With the availability of subscription databases, we have access to valid, authoritative, vetted information that helps people in their lives, all ages, from children, from preschool, all the way through old age. That's an important service that libraries provide, because you can't just go to Google and find everything."
Mt. Lebanon has kept up with technology by circulating items in a variety of formats, including Kindle and Nook e-readers on which electronically transmitted books are loaded. Also, the library plans to start lending iPads mini devices, which provide good screen resolution for children's picture books.
The children's area is fully stocked with age-appropriate materials.
"This room goes from birth through grade 8, and also a large parenting collection is housed here," said Holly Visnesky, senior librarian, children's department. "We have weekly story time for children and their parents, where they get exposed to books, to music, to rhymes, to different parts of the collection."
As is the case with Ms. Richey, she enjoys putting an emphasis on youngsters.
"It's fun working with children," Ms. Visnesky said. "They keep you on your toes. You're always learning something."
For Ms. Richey, she discovered right away that she was going to enjoy her career, and she continues to view it as tremendously gratifying.
"I truly believe that libraries change lives, and they change them for the better."
Harry Funk, freelance: firstname.lastname@example.org.