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Viral Facebook post revives Pittsburgh Manchester PreK-8 library

| Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2012, 11:59 p.m.
Jasmine Goldband
Manchester Elementary School parent engagement organizer Wallace Sapp, 61 of Manchester (left) watches as volunteers including Julian Harris of Braddock, a volunteer Pelora put finishing touches on the new library at Pittsburgh Manchester PreK-8 School Tuesday, October 23, 2012. Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review

The library at Pittsburgh Manchester PreK-8 School deteriorated so much and for so long that students stopped going into the room.

“There were very few books, and many of the books in the library were old — even when I was in school,” said Principal Theresa Cherry, a 1984 graduate of Franklin Regional High School.

How quickly a viral social-media campaign can change things.

On Thursday, the school's 275 students will find a vibrant library, renovated by dozens of volunteers and filled with 1,000 books donated from all over the world.

“It has gone from being a bleak, inhospitable room to one filled with empowerment, wonderment and possibilities. The students will go stir crazy when they see it,” said Craig McDonald, an interior decorator for PerLora, a South Side furniture store.

McDonald designed the library. He replaced the carpet, repainted bookshelves and secured a mural by Dave Klug, a local illustrator of children's books.

The school on Manhattan Avenue in the Manchester neighborhood of the North Side had no librarian for years.

“There has not been equitable funding among the schools. That has changed,” Cherry said.

Last month, Sheila May-Stein, a librarian assigned to Manchester this year, posted a photo on Facebook with a comment that the library had only 40 usable books in its fiction section.

She wrote: “Feeling overwhelmed and despondent when I see pictures of iPad labs and brand-new books and all the other privileges white suburban kids have when I compare it to what the kids at this school have. They are learning every day that they aren't worth clean, fresh paint and unstained carpets and books that aren't 65 years old.”

May-Stein's posting went viral, drawing donations from as nearby as Bethel Park's Lincoln Elementary School, where students raised money to buy books about football, and from as far away as Manchester, England, where a woman said she felt an affinity with a neighborhood with the same name.

May-Stein compiled a wish list for the library on Amazon.com.

British science fiction writer Neil Gaiman tweeted about the school, which garnered more attention and donations.

“It's amazing what the Internet can do,” said Shane Haynie, manager of Sam's Club store in Ohio Township, who along with several co-workers donated more than 40 hours of work in less than a week to renovate the library. “Every school should have a good library.”

Sam's Club paid for the bulk of the project, estimated at thousands of dollars.

The school's student body is 90 percent black, and about 80 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, said Pittsburgh Public Schools spokeswoman Ebony Pugh.

Having a good library is more imperative at Manchester PreK-8 than at more affluent schools, Cherry said.

“Many of our students have no books at home — none. And they need to read outside of school, like all students. This is a state-of-the-art library, and everyone will want to check a book out,” Cherry said.

Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or at rwills@tribweb.com.

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