Library branch symbolizes revival


By Joey Sykes

The East Liberty branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has one distinct similarity as the neighborhood it is based in: a promising future.

Located at 130 S. Whitfield Street, the library has undergone a resurgence thanks to its new look, with translucent book shelves and additions like The Labs, an area for children to learn about art and technology from staff mentors.

Caralee Sommerer, the branch’s Senior Children’s librarian, has seen firsthand the rise of both the library and its neighborhood over the past 14 years.

“This is a great community to work in because we are probably the third or fourth busiest branch and the community is so diverse,” Sommerer says. “There are so many different types of people [entering] through the doors.

Founded in 1905, the branch has undergone radical changes in both location and architecture. The original structure for the library was located on Station Street, close to the border of neighboring Larimer, and was around until 1964 before being lost to encroaching urban development.

It didn’t take long before the second incarnation of the branch was founded in its current location. In 1968, officials broke ground broke on the library, and since then, it has been on the rise. Recently, from 2009 to 2010, renovations were done that brought a modern look to the library both on the outside and the interior.

Clerical Supervisor Anthony Harty, who has worked at the branch for more than seven years, remembers the renovations as a turning point in the library’s history.

“We closed for 14 months back in 2009 and they basically gutted it and built it up from scratch. It’s always an adventure, though,” Harty says. “I’ve worked at the main and at some of the smaller libraries, but this one is nice because it’s not too busy and it’s not too quiet. Being small, it adds character.”

“We lost the original building, which is probably a more historic facility,” Sommerer adds. “It was closed because development occurred in East Liberty in the ’60s, which changed and forced out a lot of people from their homes. This incarnation, however, is special because of the new look. It’s kind of a symbol for the neighborhood and what it’s becoming.”

As the library is helping to get East Liberty back to its feet, the small parts that keep the branch moving can’t be forgotten. Frantz believes each branch has done a fine job feeding their patrons the knowledge they crave, but that the East Liberty branch is something unique.

“[The workers are] very friendly, the information is very succinct and they address your particular question very well,” Frantz says. “I always found particularly good information and everyone to be very helpful. Even through the hardships the neighborhood has been through, they have stuck with it well and that is especially shown through the people that work here.”

The East Liberty branch of the Carnegie Library is something more than just a library. To Frantz, it’s something special to both the patrons and the neighborhood.

“It’s one of their jewels,” Frantz says.