In June 1932, the Lions Club proposed a town library which the Club would operate if space were provided in the Municipal Building on Washington Road. The Commissioners accepted the proposal and the whole community celebrated the birth of the Mt. Lebanon Public Library. During the summer and fall, volunteers collected books donated by residents. Residents and civic groups supported the project and on “Library Day” handbills were posted, a sound truck broadcast the news, and Boy Scouts canvassed the community for more than 8, 000 books. Fortune magazine was donated that day and became the first periodical in the magazine section; National Geographic was added shortly thereafter. Members of local organizations and clubs, headed by the Lions Club, solicited gifts of money. The Library was dedicated on November 15, 1932. The first librarian was Kathryn E. Peoples. The first year's circulation was 30,162 books and the collection grew to 9,000 books.
The first Board comprised three citizens at large and representatives of the Woman's Club of Mt. Lebanon, Civic League, Kiwanis Club, Woman's Fortnightly Review of Mt. Lebanon, South Hills College Club, Lions Club, American Legion, School Board and the Parent Teacher Association. The board was later incorporated as the Mt. Lebanon Public Library Association. For the first thirty years of its existence, the Library was operated by the Mt. Lebanon Public Library Association comprising representatives of the Lions Club, the Woman’s Club of Mt. Lebanon, the Woman’s Fortnightly Review of Mt. Lebanon, American Legion Post 156, the Civic League, Community Association, Kiwanis Club, South Hills College Club, Mt. Lebanon Board of Education, the Township Commissioners, and the citizens of Mt. Lebanon.
The struggle to exist in the face of scant funds was eased in 1933 when the Township Commissioners approved $500 to support the library. The money came from the Township’s share of the County Beer License fees. The first Story Hour for children was started in 1933. By 1936 appropriations were increased to $2,500 and covered the librarians' salaries. Following Miss Peoples’ resignation that year, Miss Cleone McLaughlin was appointed Librarian. She held the position until 1938, when Ella (Mrs. John) Daub became Librarian.
Use of the library increased rapidly, and the library outgrew its original space. By 1939, the volunteer firemen had given two large rooms on the second floor in the front of the Municipal Building. Library hours increased to 56 hours a week. During World War II the library collected books for soldiers and by 1943 had forwarded 659 books to soldiers overseas.
In June of 1955 the Mt. Lebanon Public Library Association was incorporated by the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County in accordance with the state’s Nonprofit Corporation Law of 1933. By 1955, citizens called for a larger library. A special committee headed by John Nash sought a solution to the space problem. The committee issued a report recommending that the township purchase property for a library site, which would then be leased to the library. The Township purchased the site of the present building from the Alice B. McEwan estate for $25,000 and noted that it would provide the 16,000 square feet and the parking area suggested by the committee. Local architect Arthur E. Tennyson designed a two-story colonial-style building with an estimated cost of $350,000 for the building and $75,000 for furnishings. The Commissioners approved the plan and a $475,000 bond issue was put on the ballot, but voters defeated it in the November 1957 election.
The idea of a new building, however, was not dead. Two years later, in 1959, on the recommendation of the League of Women Voters, the Commissioners hired Consultants Walter H. Kaiser and Arthur Yarbroff to study library needs. The consultants recommended that a separate and larger facility, adequate to hold 60,000 volumes, be built on the land owned by the township across from Mellon Junior High School.
In 1960 a Special Library Committee appointed by the Commissioners, using the report of Library needs prepared by the consultants, recommended that the Library become affiliated with the township and that architects prepare plans for a new building. The Mt Lebanon Public Library Association, which had governed the library for 30 years, endorsed the report.
In June 1961 the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania enacted the Library Code of Pennsylvania (The Library Code, Act of June 14, 1961, P.L. 324). The Mt Lebanon Public Library Association subsequently agreed to transfer all assets to the Township in trust for the library. The Library Code authorized the township to appoint an administrative Board of Directors for the Library. The Library became the township Library on October 12, 1961 (Ordinance No. 2166). The Library would be governed under the Library Code of Pennsylvania. On December 27, 1961, the Mt. Lebanon Public Library Association presented to the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, an amended charter converting it to an organization sponsoring rather than operating the library. The commissioners appointed a Library Board of five members to administer the library.
In 1961 Mt. Lebanon voters approved a $315,000 bond issue to finance the new library building. Architect J. Russell Bailey was hired to plan the new facility. He estimated that a new building with 13,350 square feet completely equipped and with adequate parking space could be built for $315,000, far below the $475,000 proposed in 1957. The referendum for the new plan was overwhelmingly adopted. On December 28, 1963, the new library building was dedicated. Architect Bailey presented keys to the building to William B. Davidson, President of the Commission, and to Robert E. Lauterbaugh, President of the Library Board. On January 27, 1964, the library opened to the public. Circulation for the day was 2,168. By the end of 1966, the annual circulation had grown to over 250,000, a growth which consultants Kaiser and Yarbroff had predicted in 1961 would come over a 10-year period.
In 1966, Ella Daub retired and Betty Anne Stroup became the Director. The library grew, adding a collection of phonograph records, a microfilm-based charging system, and a copy machine. It started homebound service, and increased its hours of opening.
In 1970 the Bureau of Library Development of the State Library required municipal governments to authorize and designate the Library as the agent for Township government to provide public library service for residents and taxpayers. The Township of Mt. Lebanon adopted a resolution (R24-70) designating the Mt. Lebanon Public Library to be the agent of the Township of Mt. Lebanon to provide free public library service. The State required that if the library were not originally established by the municipality, the Library Board was required to pass a resolution accepting the designation of agent. The Library Board adopted such a resolution (October 31, 1970) accepting the designation by the Board of Commissioners of the Township of Mt. Lebanon as its agency for providing public library service.
By 1975 annual circulation reached 363,000, the highest in the library's history. In 1977, however, library hours were reduced to contain costs; closing Friday evenings resulted in a circulation drop of 18,000. In 1979 under the direction of Donald C. Potter, Associate Director of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, the District Library Center conducted a study of our Library’s needs and services and made recommendations for improving services and facilities.
By 1981, circulation had recovered, reaching the second highest total ever at 358,637. There were now 100,000 catalogued items in the collection, including books, records, slides, filmstrips, 16 mm films, and 250 periodical subscriptions. In 1984, the library added four hours on Sunday to its operating schedule. Children's librarians took their popular storytimes to daycare centers, schools, and senior citizen centers. The Commission of Mt. Lebanon presented a resolution of commendation to artist Joe Servello for his beautifully painted murals of American folk heroes and heroines and historical clowns in the Children's Library. In the 1989 the Library Board was expanded to seven members.
Betty Anne Stroup, Library Director for 22 years, retired on July 2, 1988. She left the library with an excellent collection and high standards of service. Joan Bieri Raymond served as Acting Director until the search committee selected a new director, Peter Leonard. Peter officially assumed his duties on November 29, 1988.
By 1990, it was apparent that a larger facility was needed. Library supporters called for a new library and building project plans were developed. After consulting with an architect, library consultant, engineer, and municipal staff, the library estimated space needs at 26,539 square feet. A public presentation was held May 11. Plans called for the building to be erected on the present site, providing additional space for collections and seating, and putting all public service functions on one level
The Friends of the Library contributed $5,000 to start an endowment, the Mt. Lebanon Public Library Fund, under the auspices of The Pittsburgh Foundation. The Library Board held its first successful Garden Tour to raise money for the Building Fund. Meanwhile, the library acquired an automated catalog and circulation system in December 1992 and issued new cards to patrons.
The Commission approved a 1993 municipal budget that included provisions for the library expansion, and selected the architectural firm of McCormick Associates to design the new library. The Commission issued a bond of $2.5 million to build the library. The library launched its capital campaign on January 24, 1994. Fundraising efforts included a book sale by the Friends of the Library, American Girl Fashion Shows and Tea parties, an Art Auction hosted by the Mt. Lebanon Junior Women's Club, and a Buy-a-Brick campaign. The municipality and school district set up payroll deduction programs. More than 4,000 donors contributed, and pledges surpassed $700,000. Additional funding came from the Allegheny Regional Asset District; Pennsylvania State legislative grants; the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation fund; and the Federal Library Service and Construction Act, Title II.
An easement agreement was reached with Southminster Church, allowing the library to expand on its present site by sharing Southminster's driveway and parking lot. Engineer Walter Heintzelman was hired as the municipality’s representative to oversee the expansion project and keep it on budget.
In May 1995, the Commissioners approved conditional use of the former Medical Rescue Team/South Building on Washington Road as temporary quarters for the library. The library closed August 23 for three weeks to allow for the transfer to the temporary facility. The temporary library offered a collection of about 50,000 volumes. Groundbreaking for the Mt. Lebanon Public Library Expansion was held October 5.
In April 1996, Peter Leonard resigned after 7 ½ years as Director to move to Cedar Mill Community Library, near Portland, Oregon. Assistant Director Joan Bieri Raymond served as Acting Director until September 1 when Cynthia K. Richey was named Director. She had been Head of Children's Services since 1986. Judith Sutton, Children's librarian, became Head of Children's Services. After 25 years of service, Joan Bieri Raymond retired. She had served as assistant to former directors Betty Anne Stroup and Peter Leonard.
In February 1997, the library joined the EIN (Electronic Information Network) as a fully participating member, providing computer hardware and online information resources to patrons. The temporary library closed on April 12, 1997. Library staff moved into the new building, and with the help of volunteers and municipal staff, prepared for the opening of the expanded facility on June 21, 1997.
The new library opened to great fanfare, with County Commissioners declaring the 21st Mt. Lebanon Library Day in Allegheny County. The $4.2 million glass, brick, and aluminum structure contained three meeting rooms, four quiet study rooms, alcoves for casual reading, shelves for 140,000 books, seats for 165 persons, and more than 50 computers. The building won an architectural design award and was featured in the December architectural issue of Library Journal.
The new facility quickly became a magnet for residents, community groups, and civic organizations. More than 2,000 patrons signed up to learn how to use the online card catalog and dozens of groups came for tours. The library increased its hours of operation by opening at 9 a.m. Monday through Saturday, and continued its outreach programs at nursery schools, day care centers, extended day programs, classrooms, community centers, civic meetings, nursing homes, hospitals, and assisted living facilities.
The Friends resumed operation of the Twice Sold Tales Used Book Sale after a two-year hiatus, and the event raised more than $16,000. The 7th Annual Garden Tour sponsored by the Library Board raised over $17,000. The community response to these efforts was an indication of the strong support of the library by the residents.
During 1998, the first full year of operation in the new building, the library experienced a tremendous increase in already heavy library usage. The business library was expanded, as was homebound delivery. The library served as a popular materials library; a preschooler’s door to learning; an independent learner’s center; and a formal education support center. Based on municipal and state funding, the cost per resident for library services was $25.10, or about the price of a single hardcover book. Circulation reached 395,870 items and the collection totaled 135,245 at year’s end. The Garden Tour and Book Sale each raised $19,000 to augment the library budget. Funding appropriations were approximately 70% from the Municipality, 24% from ARAD, and 6% from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Circulation continued to grow in 1999, reflecting increased use of the expanded business library, large print book collection, and unabridged audiobooks, as well as additions to the general collection. The community continued to take advantage of gallery and display space to showcase artistic talent and eclectic collections. The reference staff answered 31,455 questions, including the kind of salad served at a Roman banquet and facts about swimming the English Channel. To find answers staff used publications on the shelves or on the Internet. Grant money totaling $27,000 from various sources funded a 12-week WWII program, development of a Readers’ Theater Troupe, and the establishment of a study resource center for students and adult learners.
The end of the millennium saw the completion of the library courtyard, an outdoor extension of the library undertaken by the Friends, suitable for formal programming and informal relaxing with a book or magazine. Circulation continued to climb as the library sought additional ways to serve all segments of the community. The library produced more than 30 booklists to provide guidance to the collection. The strong library programming added special speakers, three film series, and the beginning of six-week Discovery Programs on various topics. Babies from birth to 6 months were inducted into a Born to Read club while summer readers turned out 880 strong. Care was taken to provide assistive devices to allow persons with disabilities to use the library freely.
Throughout the decade the library took a leadership role in county-wide library consortia. The library also provided meeting space for local civic, community and non-profit organizations, and formed partnerships with the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council, whose tutors help many local residents, the League of Women Voters, and the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh.
As the 20th century came to a close, circulation figures for the library hit an all-time high, reaching over 445,000 items. This included the first DVDs to be bought for the collection. The ever-popular storytimes, chess clubs, song fests, summer reading, and holiday celebrations drew in the children, while book discussions, language groups, movie nights, gallery exhibits, and other quality programming appealed to adult tastes. Some of the programming came about through associations with such institutions as the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, The Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, The Carnegie, and local healthcare and civic organizations. Outreach to daycares, schools, and nursing and retirement homes complemented the on-site activities. Funding from the Allegheny Regional Asset District and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania increased significantly, providing 27% and 13% of the library’s government funding, respectively.
During the early years of the 21st century, the library has experienced even more growth. Circulation has risen to nearly 570,000 items. An average of 114 people visits the library each hour of operation. The library’s collection numbers 170,869 items, including books and audio-visual items. The library has enhanced its special collections and added a teen non-fiction collection, a circulating puppet-and-book collection, and downloadable audio books. The library website receives more than 65,000 visits each month and includes subscription databases for business, health, genealogy, and foreign languages. Nearly 1,300 programs for adults and children are offered each year, with more than 28,000 people of all ages in attendance. The Library offers ten book discussion groups that meet on the premises, as well as six foreign language literature and conversation groups. The public continues to demonstrate its generous support through the Garden Tour, Annual Used Book Sale, the memorial and honor book program, and annual donations. In addition, 350 volunteers donate more than 9,200 hours to the library. The Library serves as the center of the community and prides itself on a decades-long commitment to excellent service to its patrons.
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