Sharpsburg Community Library to expand programs, opportunities next year - FoxChapel

Sharpsburg Community Library to expand programs, opportunities next year

Friday, November 15, 2019 | 7:20 AM

New staffing, programs, outreach efforts and fundraising are in the near future for the Sharpsburg Community Library.

Executive director Jill McConnell and branch manager Sara Mariacher held the second annual community meeting Thursday night.

“We wanted the community to know how appreciative we were for their efforts in bringing us to the point we are today compared to last year,” McConnell said. “They deserve to know the good and the bad.”

She likened the meeting to a State of the Union address, as administrators discussed highlights of the year and plans for 2020.

Since January, adult program monthly participation skyrocketed from 15 to about 100 people, an estimated 375% hike from 2018. Four more programs were also added.

Children participation also improved from 130 to about 160 a month compared to last year. The library’s STEAM programs – science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics – continue to be the most attended.

Mariacher said leftover funds from a 2017 Women’s Board of Pittsburgh grant will go toward new iPads and Chromebooks for those programs. The library serves about 1,500 people per month.

Susie Kahle recently joined the library as its patron services assistant. It’s a new part-time position to have an additional staffer on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Mariacher said Kahle’s presence allows other volunteers to help with other programs.

The library began hosting monthly art receptions where local artists can showcase and sell their wares.

Mariacher said they’re already booked through next year.

The library also participated in Sharpsburg’s inaugural River Festival and Night Out as part of its outreach efforts. Officials plan to start a book club and possibly another program at the nearby Body and Soul Senior Center.

Mariacher said two new fundraisers, a dine-and-donate at Chipotle and shop-and-donate at Five Below, both in the Waterworks Shopping Plaza, were successful.

A new fundraiser, tentatively titled Literary Libations Bar Crawl, is being planned for next year. It will feature stops at local distilleries, wineries and bars.

The message was about the opposite from the community meeting last November in which library officials were trying to find ways out of a projected $27,000 budget shortfall and overall $64,000 deficit.

Hours of operation were cut from 30 to 25 per week for several months. The library restored its hours in March thanks to an anonymous $10,000 donation.

Money used to buy books, magazines and other items in the library’s collection was cut from $18,000 to $10,000.

McConnell said that fund will be restored to $16,000 next year in the library’s first balanced budget in years. It costs about $110,000 to $120,000 a year to run the library.

She credits the community and Mariacher with the library’s recovery.

“It does encourage us to continue doing what she’s doing,” McConnell said. “Every time I talk to her, she has another idea.”

Mariacher said sharing the troubling information with the public last year helped bring awareness to the library’s troubles and garner community support.

“It really opened people’s eyes to what the library is to the community and how they can help us,” she said. “I think without that meeting, people didn’t know that there was anything that they could do for the library. I think a lot of people don’t know what budget expectations are for libraries and how difficult it is to manage one. It’s a service that everybody wants that nobody knows how to assist and is expected to always be there.”

Resident Melanie Linn Gutowski, who brings her son and daughter to the library frequently, was excited to hear the news about the recovery and 2020 projections.

“I’m thrilled because last year was kind of a dire situation,” she said. “We came out of the meeting thinking, ‘What are we going to do? We have to do something right now.’ Everybody was trying to figure out what we were going to do to save our library. It’s great to hear that it’s come not only full circle, but pulling ourselves out of the hole and up in the right direction.”

Gutowski’s also not surprised to hear Mariacher recognized as a key factor in the turnaround.

“I think Sara’s done an excellent job in promoting the events at the library and building a community here,” Gutowski said. “It’s taken years, but she’s just so attuned to our community. I think that makes a big difference. Most of the kids here don’t have a lot of the opportunities that some of their peers might in the (Fox Chapel) School District … The library becomes their headquarters every summer. After school, it’s packed. This is one of the few places in this neighborhood they’re allowed to come and just be.”

Sharpsburg Community Library’s been around for about 23 years with the last 10 at its 1212 Main St. location. Its parent library is Cooper-Siegel Community Library.

It primarily serves residents of Sharpsburg, O’Hara, Aspinwall and Etna.

Email for more information about the library and how to help.