More than books: Library draws in all kinds

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is home to books, movies, music and more for Brookliners. Photo by Rebekah Devorak.

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is home to books, movies, music and more for Brookliners. Photo by Rebekah Devorak.

By: Katie Lipko

Community. Connection. Engagement.

This description of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in Brookline comes from Jessica Clark, library services manager who believes that the library is as much an anchor in the Brookline community as the community is an anchor to the library.

“A community is its people,” says Clark. “While [Brookline] has its businesses, its organizations, its heart is its people. And this is how we think about the library, too.”

To draw on this belief, the library contains a “community living room” by the front windows that face Brookline Boulevard. Every day this spot is filled with individuals reading, talking or hanging out, according to Clark who loves seeing the people interact with each other.

While books are still a main focus to any library, Clark explains that helping people build connections within the community and with each other is a main focus of the Brookline library.

Annette Ferrieri, President of the Brookline Area Community Council (BACC), says that the Brookline Library has historically been a place for families and groups of all kinds to gather, and that attribute still stands today. “[The library] is for many, not only physically but socially, the center of the Boulevard.”

The Boulevard has helped the success of the library in more than one way.

“Brookline still has that main street kind of feel to it,” says Clark, who likes that the Boulevard is a one-stop street for the community. The reconstruction of the Boulevard made the street so beautiful, she says, creating that “small town within a city feel.” Since many use the Boulevard, traffic in and out of the library is constant.

The library sees about 12,000 people each month and about 450 a day. Clark explains that the library circulates 6,300 books, magazines, DVDs, music CDs and other items each month. EBooks have become increasingly popular and Clark says that technology is the biggest change the library has seen in addition to the change in way individuals learn.

“Supporting people all along the spectrum of their lives” is a way Clark says the library focuses on helping the community. “We are now much more mindful that ‘not one size does fit all.’”

Making all library users happy is a difficulty for Clark. “When successful, it is very rewarding, but it is a challenge making sure everyone is getting what they need,” she says. Every individual is different. Clark sees some kids who are looking for a place to do homework, while others want the computer to play Minecraft. Efficiency of space was the solution.

When the library moved to its current building in 1991 from down the street, the lower level was an unusable basement, and the building was being leased. 2003 saw the renovations of the building which took a year to complete.

The BACC raised the funds to buy the property on which the library sits, and the Carnegie Library system contributed money which completed renovations.

“One of my proudest moments was putting on the commemorative hard hat and swinging a sledge hammer into the old wall to start the construction,” said Ferrieri.

Previously a congested and crowed single floor space, in 2004 when the library reopened, a full separate level for children’s services and meeting rooms had been created.

Clark believes that to folks who live in Brookline, the transformation of the building was incredible. The library was now able to give all users their individual space, allowing them to help and reach more people in the community.

Promoting community, literacy and learning is a goal of the library, and in Clark’s words, literacy is more than making sure individuals can read and write.

There are various types of literacy needs. Clark sees many older individuals confused over using computers. To help all individuals with their specific needs during different stages in their lives, the library offers many programs. Guitar classes, yoga classes, English classes, computer classes, book readings and various children’s after school programs are just a few.

Strong community connections are apparent in class offerings like Intro to Guitar, which is able to be offered because of community members who have guitar skills wanted to share them. Clark says that while the library does not always teach various classes, they provide the space and offer the program at no charge to participants.

Connections with local organizations and businesses also help the library accomplish their goals. “Partnering magnifies the potential to help people,” Clark says since each partner has their own area of expertise.

The Brookline library has good relationships with area schools, The Seton Center, Casa San Jose and the nearby Geekadrome store. This business specifically has donated many video games and electronic devices to fill the children’s section of the library. Gaming is a big aspect of the library and Clark says that there would be no gaming section without Geekadrome.

The BACC has also been a solid support system for the library for many years.

Ferrieri says that the BACC stepped in to help develop a permanent, community-friendly home for the Brookline library because the Carnegie Library system has a history of being a place in which all Brookline community members can count.

Ferrieri believes “the renovation of the library was a positive change on Brookline Boulevard that started the current upswing.” She says, “[the library] was and is a true asset in every way.”

An active member and user of the library, Ferrieri sees the library staff’s cooperation within the community and says their efforts to help all have paid off. The computers at the library are lifelines for some and convenience for others but busy most of the time as is the children’s center which is always filled with kids and laughter.

“[The library] is a vital part of our community,” said Ferrieri, who does not know where Brookline would be without it.