Monroeville Public Library
4000 Gateway Campus Blvd.
Monroeville, PA 15146
412-372-0500

 

Library Hours
Monday - Thursday: 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Friday - Saturday: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Sunday: Closed through Labor Day
A History of Monroeville Public Library

by Roberta J. Moore

The Early Community

There is a consensus among local historians that Monroeville emerged out of its interlinking roadways. Nothing could be better substantiated in history, as this sleepy farming region - long known as Patton Township - changed little from 1800 to 1920. The establishment of the Pitcairn Rail Yard in the 1880s brought needed new jobs to the region and connected local residents to mill jobs in Turtle Creek and East Pittsburgh; but it did little to change the general landscape of Patton Township – a series of small family farms and exhausted mines.

In the 1920s, everything began to change. The William Penn Highway opened in 1926, linking Pittsburgh to Patton Township. It was quickly followed by additional roads made possible through the WPA of the 1930s. “Better roads encouraged the traveling public, and for a time, Patton Township became a destination: a place for the weary city dweller to escape to on a pleasant day drive to the country.”(1) As the roads grew, so did commerce, including taverns, inns, stores, filling stations, restaurants, and an amusement park. (1 Getting Around: A History of Travel in Monroeville, PA. Louis Chandler, 2007)

In 1950, the Pittsburgh Exit of the Pennsylvania Turnpike was established at Patton Township, making it a highly accessible locale. Forward-thinking corporations headquartered in Pittsburgh saw this as an ideal and strategic location for their research operations, including PPG, U.S. Steel, Koppers, and Corning. As these industries brought more jobs to the region, the jobs brought more people. In 1951, Patton Township officially became the Borough of Monroeville. By now, it was home to nearly 8,000 souls – triple its population of 1920.
Turnpike
 
From 1950 to 1958 Monroeville’s population would double again, to more than 17,000 residents. In that same period, the Miracle Mile shopping center and the Garden City housing development would open, as would a new municipal building, churches of various denominations, and five new public schools to accommodate the booming youth population.

A Library is Conceived

By 1960, Monroeville’s population had reached 22,000, including more than 8,000 youngsters enrolled in the district’s public schools. Others attended the local parochial schools. Clearly absent from the local landscape was a public library. Mrs. Franklin (Maude) Malick, a Monroeville resident, was concerned that the mushrooming community had no library. Though Carnegie Library’s bookmobile stopped by each week, it couldn’t meet the needs of the local population.

Maude Malick celebrating the Library's 5th anniversary in 1969.

Along with her friend Mrs. Howard (Gladys) Bernstein, Maude Malick (pictured left) investigated strategies for creating a community library and subsequently organized the Monroeville Citizens Committee for Library Service. With support and advice from the Carnegie Library, this group met with the Monroeville Borough Council in October of 1960. A library ordinance was subsequently passed which stated that if the citizens of Monroeville provided land and raised money to build a library, it would be supported thereafter with local tax funds.

So a Library Board was formed with Maude Malick as its capable and highly-qualified President. Supporting her in the task at hand was Dr. Richard Oriani, then the Assistant Director of Physical Chemistry at the Edgar Bain U.S. Steel Fundamental Research Laboratory. From 1961 through 1963, these two would spearhead the planning, development, and fundraising for Monroeville’s first public library.

The Library Board quickly identified the ideal location for its planned facility within the complex housing the new Gateway Senior High School and Mosside Elementary School. In early 1962, the Gateway Union School Board agreed to donate the 3.5 acre tract of land opposite the high school for this purpose, agreeing that it would be an ideal setting for use by students throughout the district.

With the location established, the site acquired, and the architectural design completed by Avner and Slutsky, A.I.A., the Board set about the business of raising the needed funds. Initially, $109,000 was raised with $78,000 coming from 1,300 families, and the rest from interested businesses and corporations.

In early ’63, under President John F. Kennedy, the federal government opened a matching gifts initiative under the Accelerated Public Works Act. Through this program the Library could acquire a matching dollar for every dollar it had in hand. Though it had raised more than $100,000 in pledges, it had received only $21,000 of the total. To secure the additional dollars needed to be eligible for the federal matching funds, a referendum was placed on Monroeville’s May 21, 1963 primary election ballot. It would enable Monroeville to increase its debt in order to guarantee payment of the federally needed “match.” Following a resounding “YES” vote, ground was broken for the new facility in June of 1963.

Shortly thereafter, the Friends of the Library organization was born, with Mrs. Paul Cover and Mrs. M.A. Biondi serving as President and Vice President respectively. Ms. Patricia Hays was hired in August as the head librarian to begin the massive job of organizing a library from scratch. In December of 1963, Mrs. Mallick and Dr. Oriani were renewed for a second term on the board and continued their efforts leading up to the Library’s official opening.

Construction continued through the winter of 1964, while book drives took place to help fill the Library shelves. No one was left out. Schools and clubs collected more than 4,000 books, and U.S. Steel Foundation, Inc. agreed to donate the entire basic collection of science and technology books.

Monroeville Public Library 1964
The second week in March, 1964, the Library Board accepted the completed structure from the architect and contractors, making it the official property of the Borough. Miss Hays moved from her temporary quarters to the new building, focusing on readying it for a fall opening. The Friends of the Library launched its first membership drive, anticipating the mammoth job preparing it for opening. Mrs. Biondi recruited 99 volunteers who would assist the two paid staff members in their early tasks. This team invested thousands of hours checking invoices, unpacking boxes, cleaning, preparing and shelving books, creating the card catalog, typing orders, and checking lists. Their work culminated in a formal dedication ceremony on Saturday, October 31, 1964.

On November 3rd, Monroeville Public Library opened its doors to the public. The two-story facility included a young people’s collection, reference section, magazine area and adult reading areas on the upper level; and a children’s room and rest rooms on the lower level. The entire facility was air conditioned and its collection numbered 7,416 books, serving a community of 22,446 residents.

Year One

Library Log

Monroeville Public Library’s first year of operation was an exciting one. Mrs. Allen Janis, an early Library leader and volunteer, established story hours on the first and third Wednesdays of each month, as well as starting a creative dramatics group for children. School year programs gave way to a special summer line-up for children of various ages.

A Fine Arts Committee was appointed by Borough Council in 1965 to assist the Library in selecting works of art for display on site. The first of these was a modern painting by Mary Jane Hackman titled “Essence of Architecture,” hung on the brick wall across from the Main Desk beginning in September, 1965. In another year this area would become the site of regular displays of the community’s many notable artists. This program would be the long-time purview of Elaine Biondi, one of the Library’s notable founders and leaders.

Continuing support for the Library was great in both scope and depth. In March of 1965, MPL was the first library in Allegheny County to receive grant funds from a new State demonstration project established to support libraries. This $75,000 grant helped fill the shelves with additional books, provide needed furnishings and equipment, and enhance staffing in the Children’s Department. Other community support arose from every garden club, women’s club, scout troop, church, business, fraternal organization, service club and nearby business to support many of the Library’s early needs. Additional support took the form of regular volunteer hours committed to the Library. Everyone was well attuned to the Library’s work, needs, events and accomplishments, thanks in part to the “Library Log” – a weekly column by Gladys Bernstein in the Monroeville Times-Express.

By its first birthday, the Library’s collection had grown to 13,530 volumes; Library cardholders had reached 7,247; 8,593 items had been circulated; and the Library had operated 279 days.

Monroeville Public Library 1968
Nine months later registered cardholders numbered 10,000 and circulation was 971 books per month. The local population had grown to 29,000, and the Library was already inadequate to meet local demand for its services. The original architects were called in once again to design a 6,700 sq. ft. addition and expanded parking area. The project was completed in the early spring of 1968 at a cost of about $100,000. It effectively doubled available shelf space for books, added office and conference rooms, increased study areas, and tripled the number of parking spaces. Forty percent of the needed funds were provided by Monroeville Borough, and 60% came from grants and other sources.

A Decade of Progress

Many new changes were in store for Monroeville in the coming months and years, not the least of which was the establishment of the Community College of Allegheny County’s Monroeville Campus. Before its library was completed in 1968, space was allocated at the Monroeville Public Library to house the College’s reference materials. Always willing to partner with others in the community, the Library also leased space to the Gateway School District in 1970 and ‘71 for administrative use; and from 1973-75 MPL served as the Regional Reference Library of Allegheny County. When it ceased to operate in this capacity, the County’s large collection of reference materials became the property of Monroeville Public Library, establishing it as the best reference library outside of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

The Library’s holdings would change markedly in the 1970s. In addition to its already significant collection of books and reference materials, its assets came to include paperback books, college catalogs, a film borrowing service, and a photocopy machine available for public use. Perhaps most notable was a growing collection of LP records available for borrowing, and a record listening station – harbingers of a new generation of audio media to come.

By 1975, the Library was again found to be inadequate for its ever-growing, ever-hungry community. Eager and willing to respond, the Library was limited only by the constraints of its own walls. Never missing a funding opportunity, its ever-capable leadership successfully accessed $86,167 from the Federal Library Services and Construction Act for yet another expansion. This time the project would add 6,000 sq. ft. to the upper east side of the building, expanding the lobby and main desk areas, washrooms, workroom, and space available for audio materials, adult resources and programming. Notwithstanding some intermittent redecorating and space reallocations, the Library’s 22,700 square feet of space would remain sufficient to its needs for the next twenty-five years.
Monroeville Oublic Library 1975

Transformation in the Electronic Age

Monroeville Public Library began its transition into the electronic market in the 1980s. From 1982- ’87 it operated a cable TV station for the community made possible by a federal grant. It began offering books-on-tape and videocassettes at the same time. In 1988, after the TV station ceased operations, the library was remodeled to create offices and a public meeting room.

The computer age swiftly overtook other workings of the Library, most notably its longstanding card catalog. In 1989, Miss Hayes - still at the helm of the ship – began the process of computerizing the Library’s catalog, for the benefit of staff and patrons alike. No longer would Library users stand for hours hunched over the catalog’s file drawers. A simple computer search would yield or reserve the desired items – or order them from a kindred library.

In 1990, MPL installed MONICA (Monroeville Integrated Computer Access), a computerized circulation system. Gone were the days of stamped book cards and pockets. Computer scanning now documented the comings and goings of every Library asset, simplifying tracking, shelving, statistical record keeping, purchasing and more. MONICA included a 12-terminal system and nine public access computers for use by patrons. These were located throughout the building. Also in 1990, compact discs, CD-ROMs and other electronic resources were introduced into the collection.
 
Kathy Kennedy
The larger, county-wide, inter-library catalog was fully computerized and available online by 1991. With this monumental undertaking completed, Patricia Hays stepped down as the Library’s Director in 1993, following thirty years of service. Not only had she presided over the Library’s birth, youth and adolescence, she saw it come of age through the remarkable transformation of our information system. She would be followed by the capable Kathy Kennedy, who had served as the Library’s head of adult services since 1987.

By 1995, the Library’s collection contained almost 90,000 items. Twenty eight full and part-time staff provided library service to the community. Over 147,000 persons visited MPL during that year and 179,623 items were borrowed. Regional Asset District (RAD) funds became available to the Library in 1995 - generated by an extra 1% sales tax levied in Allegheny County. An initial grant of $78,000 from RAD funded an electric lift to transport library users between floors. This was one of several improvements made in the 90’s to make the Library more accessible to persons with disabilities. Other upgrades included ADA accessible restrooms, automatic front doors, main entrance and sidewalk redesign.

Moving Forward in the New Millennium

In 2001, the Library saw its first renovation since 1975. This included the addition of a 270 sq. ft. conference room for meetings, study, and tutoring groups. State Representative Joseph Markosek was instrumental in securing the $100,000 needed for the project.

Christy Fusco

As of 2002 the Library collection numbered 102,630 items. In 2003, DVDs were added to the collection and circulation reached a new high - 218,259 items. Wireless technology was also added to the Library’s meeting rooms.

In 2006, Kathy Kennedy left as Monroeville Library’s Director, to be followed in 2007 by Christy Fusco, previously the director of Uniontown Public Library in Fayette County, PA. Miss Fusco is only the third Library Director since it opened in 1964.

Today the Library’s services are transformed from those of its early days, and they continue to diversify. Public access computers and free computer tutoring are mainstays at MPL. All forms of electronic and digital media are available. Meeting rooms are heavily used by community groups, especially the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council. Tutoring in English as a Second Language (ESL) is highly popular in this ethnically rich community, as is the Library’s growing collection of multi-cultural materials. Children's Department programs are extremely popular, as is the newly-created Teen Area. The summer of 2009 saw the addition of a hugely successful summer science series for children, funded by The PPG Foundation. Similar programs are expected to continue in the coming years.

Though computers are now available in most American homes, the Library continues to see tremendous daily use of its public access computers and online resources. Nevertheless – and as we predicted – computers have not supplanted the Library’s original resources. Books are as popular as ever. All manner of books fly off the shelves of MPL hourly – popular fiction, non-fiction, biographies, history, politics, religion, self-improvement, cooking, hobbies, graphic novels, and more. There is something for everyone, whether in print or electronic format. More than ever, the Library is a great meeting place – a community center for all ages - and the one place in our community that is a "treasurehouse" of thoughts and ideas of the past, present, and future. May there always be a public library in Monroeville.


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