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Murrysville Community Library celebrates 85 years

| Thursday, May 3, 2012, 10:30 p.m.

Armed with the newly recognized power to vote, a group of Murrysville women banded together in 1920 to organize the Murrysville Women's Club. Their mission was the formation of a community library.

The 44 charter members of the club set to work and after 15 months had raised $400 to purchase bookcases and books. Much-needed books were also donated, thanks in part to a well-known scientist and inventor.

Francis Laird Stewart was born in Murrysville on June 12, 1831. He served as a teacher at an academy near Gettysburg and later went to Jefferson City, Mo., and taught for three years. Stewart returned to Murrysville in 1861 where he formed and instructed classes in the Laird Institute, in what was described as "an academy of the highest grade," according to John N. Boucher in his "History of Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, Vol. III," published in 1906.

Stewart went on to promote the Turtle Creek Valley Railroad and conducted experiments on the manufacture of sugar millet. He also ventured into experiments to determine the nature and properties of natural gas, which he found in abundance in Murrysville.

"Dr. Laird operated his school in conjunction with the Murrysville Presbyterian Church," said Denise Sticha, director of the Murrysville Community Library. "Most of the library's early collection of 660 books came from him."

The work of the Murrysville Women's Club paid off on March 11, 1922, when the library was officially dedicated within the Murrysville School. It was staffed by club members who volunteered during the library's operating hours -- one hour a day after school and one evening each week.

By 1924, the library was open two evenings a week, and one year later moved into a space in the old post office building on the town square, on the advice of the Pennsylvania state librarian. The building was a small frame structure donated by Dr. Orbin Hall.

"The library kept growing and by 1935 had over 1,200 books," Sticha said. "The library moved again in 1954 into the first-ever volunteer fire hall."

The community's love of its library continued and within four years, the women's club purchased land to construct a community club house on Carson Street that provided space for the library. The community building was dedicated on April 26, 1959.

"That building was a collaborative effort between the club and Communities Inc., a group of organizations in Murrysville and Export," Sticha said. "The library stayed in that small room for many years."

Murrysville Mayor Joyce Somers, a member of the women's club, remembered when the books were stacked floor to ceiling in the small library room.

"Residents looked to build a new library on school property, but the school wouldn't let them buy the land," said Somers. "We began to look at turning the entire club building into a library, and we went to council to ask for authorization to start a fund drive to renovate the building."

The women's club turned over the building to the library in 1982.

"We needed to raise $250,000 for the renovations, and we raised half that and were able to get matching grants," Somers added.

Sticha was named head librarian in 1981 and served in that capacity until 1987. She came back as director in 2001.

"The women's club was very generous in giving us the building because they lost their club house," Sticha said. "We reopened in December 1984."

Somers also served on the library board of directors for six years, as treasurer and president. She was also instrumental in bringing the library to the municipal building on Sardis Road.

"Council decided to borrow money and construct an administration building and police station on Sardis Road," Somers said. "Many citizens, including me, went before council and said if they were going to have a bond issue, they should build a two-story building to also house the library."

Council agreed and the building's design was enlarged to house the library on the second floor. On Jan. 2, 1996, the library opened in the new municipal building. The community building on Carson Street is now used as the senior citizen and community center.

In its 85 years, the library has grown to include nearly 64,000 books, DVDs, music tapes, six Internet stations and 10 laptops in a wireless computer lab. Last year 108,700 items were circulated and 101,927 people came through the library's front door.

"Volunteers are still a very important part of our operation," Sticha added. "We had a total of 3,419 volunteer hours logged in last year, and we have 15,629 registered patrons from Murrysville, Export, the Franklin Regional School District and Washington Township."

On Sunday, the library will celebrate its anniversary with cake and cookies. The day will also be an amnesty day. Sticha said those patrons who return overdue items will not be charged fines.

Library staff and volunteers are also creating a bulletin board on which patrons can write their favorite library memories. Family story time will be held at 3 p.m. where children and adults can share their birthday stories.

Sticha will share the story of the Murrysville Community Library.

"It was the dedication of the members of the women's club that made this library possible," Sticha said. "And they continue to support the Murrysville library."

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