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Library's longevity in Homewood lauded

| Friday, March 5, 2010

Allison and Shirl Esseny have come to the Homewood branch of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh daily since September and plan to help celebrate its 100th anniversary next week.

"We're going to come here Monday to honor the library, which has been here for a long time, and we hope it continues being here," said Allison Esseny, 59, who lives with her twin sister in Homewood.

At a time when the Carnegie Library is considering closing four branches and merging two others to save money, the Homewood branch remains a rock of the East End.

Last year, it drew 85,700 visitors, the fifth highest in the system, behind the Oakland, Squirrel Hill, Downtown and Brookline branches. Patrons come from Homewood-Brushton, Penn Hills, East Hills, Lincoln, Larimer, Lemington and Belmar.

"That's a great milestone for us, a century of service," said Barbara K. Mistick, president and director of the Carnegie Library.

Located on Hamilton Avenue near the former home of Andrew Carnegie's mother and brother, the Homewood branch opened March 10, 1910. Designed by Frank Alden and Alfred Harlow, then the city's premier architects, it is a building with rich wood trim and friezes of fairy tales and nursery rhymes.

A $2.5 million renovation in 2003 removed the balcony in the main lobby, providing more light through the arched windows. Also removed was the giant circulation desk, which was a barrier between staff and patrons. The renovation provided access for the handicapped, updated the 300-seat auditorium and converted the caretaker's apartment into meeting rooms.

Mistick said officials chose Homewood for the first branch renovation because of its extensive use by people outside the city. That was particularly attractive to the Allegheny Regional Asset District, which provides about 70 percent of the Carnegie Library's revenue.

As a child, librarian Yvonne Lipscomb recalls visiting the branch and seeing Albert French and John Edgar Wideman, then youths but now nationally known authors.

Franklin Banks visits the branch four or five times a week to use a computer for job searches and to surf the Internet. He appreciates how it has introduced children from the inner city to computers.

"It's showing that urban kids are starting to learn new things," he said.

The library will celebrate its anniversary throughout the year, starting Monday. From 2 to 5 p.m. that day, there will be poetry readings, punch and cake, and children will make birthday cards.

The United Black Book Clubs of Pittsburgh hopes to get 100 children to write the names of their favorite books on slips of paper and insert them into balloons to be released Monday.

Lorena Amos, president of the group, visited the branch recently with her grandson, Jelani Brock, 3.

She said the branch "brings the community together."

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