ShareThis Page

Whitehall Public Library changes with the times

| Wednesday, May 15, 2013, 9:20 p.m.
Randy Jarosz | For The South Hills Record
Getting a good look at a quilt donated to the library for its 50th anniversary celebration are (from left) Bob Henke, Phyllis Henke, President of the board of trustees of Whitehall Public Library Cristina Brady and Whitehall Public Library director Paula Kelly.
Randy Jarosz | For The South Hills Record
Whitehall Public Library board members (from left) George Findlay, Debby Recker, Eileen Tenenbaum, Cristina Brady, Damien Schorr and Harold Ohm gather for the library's 50th anniversary celebration on May 5, 2013 at South Hills Country Club.
Randy Jarosz | For The South Hills Record
Deborah and Brian Rampolla of Whitehall take a look at a quilt donated to the library for its 50th anniversary celebration.
Randy Jarosz | For The South Hills Record
Whitehall Public Library director Paula Kelly (right) poses with her mom Lois Cunningham of Whitehall, who worked at the library for 25 years.

The computer training classes, children's play area, senior citizen cafe and refugee support programs that bring hundreds of smiling faces through the Whitehall Public Library doors each month likely were not part of the plan 50 years ago, leaders say.

Yet as Whitehall Borough has evolved — with new residents and a changing desire for services — the library has adapted to meet the needs of the community.

“In 1963, the leaders of Whitehall wanted a library to serve its residents. They could not have envisioned how far it has come,” said Whitehall library board of directors President Cris Brady. “To me, it really is the hub of the community.”

More than 160 people gathered at the South Hills Country Club on May 5, 50 years to the day after the Whitehall Public Library was dedicated, to celebrate the community center's golden anniversary. State Sen. Matt Smith and Rep. Erin Molchany, borough leaders, past library staffers and community members were in attendance.

Cast members from this year's six-time Gene Kelly-nominated Baldwin High School musical “Hairspray” provided entertainment and a quilt honoring the library's history, with patchwork of book titles donated by area residents that will be hung on the reference area wall, was unveiled.

This celebration was important for library staffers and residents to come together and reflect on the last 50 years, they said.

“The exciting thing is that this library has maintained and sustained rock solid support from the community,” said library director Paula Kelly, who grew up visiting the Whitehall library each week since childhood. Her mother, Louis Cunningham, worked at the library for more than 20 years, and Kelly has seen the changes at Whitehall Public Library first hand.

“Everything about the library has changed dramatically,” Kelly said.

It was grass roots groups of women that began to urge borough leaders for a library from the town's creation in 1948.

When land was purchased for the borough's municipal building in 1961, space for a library was included in the building's design and years before the library was created a board of library trustees was appointed by borough council.

The Friends of Whitehall Public Library was formed in 1961 and fundraising efforts for a library began, mostly with the help of the Whitehall Century Club, and approximately $20,000 was raised, enough to purchase about 4,000 books for the new library.

Carl Sandburg's “Abraham Lincoln” was the library's first catalogued title.

In December 1962, the library hired its first director, and the library opened on June 1, 1963.

From the days of handwritten cards and 1960s orange flair, much has changed.

“Libraries initially developed as information warehouses,” Kelly said. “Now, although we still lend resources, we're much more of a community hub, where people come together to learn about technology and other things.”

Whitehall Friends of the Library President Faustino Dunckhorst says the biggest change he has seen in the last 16 years that he has been involved at Whitehall Public Library was the integration of the library as a component of the Allegheny County library system, which began in 1995.

“Before, the library user had access only to the 50,000 or so items housed in the library itself. Today, each user has convenient access to the combined resources of all 45 libraries in the system, over five million items,” Dunckhorst said. “One library card gives him or her access to any library in the system, and there is one common catalog and one computer network — the eiNetwork — that connects them all.

“I never cease to be amazed by how well the individual libraries from so many different municipalities cooperate with each other,” he said.

The computer system, or the eiNetwork, which links libraries in the county, also was a big change at Whitehall library, Dunkhorst said.

Adding programs at Whitehall library to meet the changing needs of residents and adapting to a changing world has been vital to Whitehall Public Library's progression, Kelly said. “I really tried to look at the demographic of the community and target services toward them,” Kelly said.

A strategic five-year plan includes a map for the library's near future. But how the next 50 years will shape out, no one can tell.

“The sky is the limit,” Brady said. “What the needs of the community will be in the next 50 years, we cannot envision. However, this community values its library so whatever the needs will be, I know that the staff of the library and the leadership of Whitehall will make it happen.”

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.