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Westmoreland County little free libraries encourage reading

Mary Pickels
| Sunday, Sept. 11, 2016, 9:54 p.m.
Ava and Liam O’Sullivan, ages 11 and 8, pose with their Little Free Library along Walnut Avenue in Scottdale on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
Ava and Liam O’Sullivan, ages 11 and 8, pose with their Little Free Library along Walnut Avenue in Scottdale on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016.
Susan Zellner of Hempfield Township, a steward of Audrey's Little Free Library, interacts with a young reader as she maintains the library at Twin Lakes Park on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016.
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Susan Zellner of Hempfield Township, a steward of Audrey's Little Free Library, interacts with a young reader as she maintains the library at Twin Lakes Park on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016.
Susan Zellner (right) of Hempfield Township, a steward of Audrey's Little Free Library, suggests a book from the library at Twin Lakes Park to Chase Lukon, 7, of Derry, on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016.
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Susan Zellner (right) of Hempfield Township, a steward of Audrey's Little Free Library, suggests a book from the library at Twin Lakes Park to Chase Lukon, 7, of Derry, on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016.
Susan Zellner of Hempfield Township, a steward of Audrey's Little Free Library, maintains the library at Twin Lakes Park on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016.
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Susan Zellner of Hempfield Township, a steward of Audrey's Little Free Library, maintains the library at Twin Lakes Park on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016.

Scattered across Westmoreland County, brightly decorated receptacles invite passers-by to take a book and leave a book.

Tiny, free-standing libraries have popped up in Scottdale, on the campus of St. Vincent College, at Twin Lakes Park and in Arnold.

Based on the honor system and maintained by volunteer stewards, the Little Free Library movement launched in Wisconsin in 2009. Todd Bol and Rick Brooks started a nonprofit group in 2012 whose registry has grown to 40,000 mini-libraries worldwide.

For a one-time $40 fee, stewards can register their sites and include them on an online map.

One of the newest area book nooks — most are no bigger than a blue Postal Service mailbox — went up last month on Walnut Avenue in Scottdale.

Jamie O'Sullivan and her daughter Ava, 11, painted it bright red and dotted it with multi-colored flowers. It includes a quote from the philosopher Plato: “Books give a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.”

“We had wanted to donate a little library to several of the parks in Scottdale as a thank-you for the community's support of Liam's story, ‘Cat for President!' ” O'Sullivan said.

Last spring, as a second-grader at Southmoreland Elementary School, Liam won second place for his story in the WQED Writers Contest.

Because borough officials were concerned about the potential for vandalism at an unmonitored park, the family opted to place a library in their front yard. Liam, 8, and his sister are its stewards.

“Since the (Chestnut Street) park is diagonal from our house, we figured there would be good foot traffic,” their mother said.

Visitors “checked out” 10 books on the first day, she said.

“We have an assortment of books, ranging from Dr. Seuss to the ‘Narrative Life of Frederick Douglass.' ”

Scottdale Public Library Director Patricia Miller sees pros and cons to the auxiliary libraries.

Residential areas outside the borough's service area might benefit from mini-libraries, she said. Miller noticed some little libraries in rural pockets of Colorado during a recent trip.

“I think it's a pop-up culture thing, rather than a necessity,” she said.

They do require regular oversight, Miller said.

“You wouldn't want a 6-year-old to pick up (adult best-seller) ‘50 Shades of Grey,' ” she said.

“I would never discourage it. I think it's a sweet thing to do. ... I commend (the O'Sullivans) for their community involvement,” Miller said.

Susan Zellner took over as steward of Audrey's Little Free Library at Twin Lakes Park's expansion playground area in Hempfield in March. She came upon an old weathered book nook in the park and contacted Malcolm Sias, Westmoreland County Parks and Recreation director, to ask about its history.

Sias said a woman and her daughter installed the first library but no longer maintained it.

“So eventually, our crew rebuilt the library and ... (Zellner) volunteered to take it over,” Sias wrote in an email.

A self-professed book “collector/hoarder,” Zellner visits book sales and Goodwill to keep the library supplied. Lately, she's found others also stock its shelves.

“People have said, ‘We didn't know it was here. We have lots of books to drop off,' ” the Greensburg woman said.

Last year, Melissa Charlton of Arnold honored a friend's request to start a Little Free Library. She decorated two old newspaper boxes — one for children and one for adults — that she was permitted to place in front of city hall on Fifth Avenue.

“I was more than happy to do it. Kids need to be able to read,” she said.

The city has no public library. Its residents are served by New Kensington Peoples Library.

“We ask if you borrow one, leave one. It doesn't always happen. We're a poor community,” Charlton said.

The depositories include Westerns, mysteries and cookbooks, she said.

“I think ours is doing very well, and I'm so proud we have it,” Charlton said.

Retired St. Vincent College educator Gene Leonard was recognized with a Little Free Library resembling a schoolhouse that was placed on campus in his honor.

A former Greater Latrobe School District teacher and principal, Leonard began teaching at St. Vincent when he retired. He later became an adjunct lecturer for the education department.

“He was an outstanding educator and leader with the personal belief that everyone can succeed. The outreach he provided for us will now be provided to others through the little library,” education department chairwoman Veronica I. Ent said.

Mary Pickels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-836-5401 or mpickels@tribweb.com.

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