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Forbes aims to get Carnegie library back on track

| Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Maggie Forbes, returning head of the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall in Carnegie, poses in front of the facility last Friday.
James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Maggie Forbes, returning head of the Carnegie Free Library in Carnegie Friday September 6, 2013.

If Maggie Forbes has her way, this chapter in the life of the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall will be called “How the Carnegie Carnegie Got Its Groove Back.”

Forbes, who left the library in 2011 after helping to raise $7.5 million in its proverbial 11th hour, returned as executive director last month.

“We want to focus on raising the profile of the Civil War room and helping the library and music hall get its groove back,” Forbes said.

Forbes originally came to Carnegie in 2003 when “the library had just $136 in its bank account after payroll,” as she tells it. The $7.5 million fundraising effort not only saved the library, but helped begin restoring the building. Prior to the effort, the 112-year-old brick and terra cotta library leaked, and the original turn-of-the-century architecture was uncared for. The books were old, Forbes said, and the music hall was uninviting.

“We need to finish restoring,” she said. “We did a lot, but there's still more to do.”

She said that while fundraising efforts have stalled over the past several years, now is the time to reawaken them.

“The first thing is to get our legs back under us financially,” she said. “We need to reconnect with the community. Fundraising is a big part of why I'm here, and my strength as a fundraiser is in my ability to hear and tell the stories here.”

And it is fundraising that the library needs, she said.

“Frankly, it's poor again,” she said of the library and music hall. “But it's not the same as it was last time.”

For one, she said, the building already has been partially restored.

“It was so sad and such a broken place,” she said of the library's former state.

“It does not have that downtrodden look to it. The building is holding its own, and that's not easy.”

Secondly, she said, strong community and corporate relationships already have been established.

“We have all these extraordinary relationships,” she said. “They've been dormant, but we can kiss those awake.”

She said she is happy to be back.

“I love this place, but it is easy to love,” she said. “I love being a part of Carnegie again. Great things are happening here — it really is coming back.”

Forbes plans to keep together the current library administrators — interim director Nate Wyrick, services manager Katie Byerly and music hall director Lynne Cochran — and continue moving forward with restorations and fundraising.

“We are the beacon on the hill,” she said. “We should be a very large part of why Carnegie is a great place to live and work.”

Megan Guza is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5810 or mguza@tribweb.com.

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