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County's libraries offer key to past with archive collections

| Saturday, June 16, 2012, 11:35 p.m.

Did you know that if you live in the Jeannette area, there may be a photo of you at the local library in what looks like a card catalog?

The photos were donated from a multitude of sources over many years, explained Hope Sehring, library director of the Jeannette Public Library.

"They're black and white -- vintage, all of them," she said.

These alphabetized photos are just one of the many treasures contained in the archival collection at the library in a room that is usually off limits to the general public.

This private and closed area is kept under lock and key because many of the items in there are often one-of-a-kind items that relate to the history of Jeannette.

"We don't have anything we can afford to lose," Sehring said, adding all items there are available for use, but cannot leave the library.

"We keep very close tabs on those materials because they are indeed one-of-a-kind," Sehring said. "We have a lot of requests. We get requests from England. They'll e-mail saying they had a relative in the century before last and could you track them?"

And the answer is always yes.

"It takes time. It takes effort," Sehring said.

Jeannette like many community libraries keeps a wide array of items pertaining to the past.

"It's a huge treasure," Sehring said.

Items at Jeannette include videocassettes of musicals performed at the Jeannette High School, microfilm of newspapers dating back to the 1800s, yearbooks, genealogy records and a lot of documents pertaining to the glass industry in Jeannette.

"Jeannette is an amazing town," Sehring said. "These people have quite a rich heritage. They're quite proud of it, too."

Sehring said the library is working with a preservationist at Penn State to treat newspaper items that are turning yellow.

That will be a big concern as Sehring and other library staff members work to tuck away the many items and news articles pertaining to Jeannette's football championship season last fall.

"My hope is that they're not going to be yellowed because of the process we followed," Sehring said.

Someone suggested the Internet as a good way to preserve items.

"I said, 'Where will that be in 100 years?' If I put that here in a box, where will that be• Here in a box. You can open it up," Sehring said.

"I don't know where the Internet will be in 100 years -- no one knows. But just like these things (in storage) where are they right now• Right here. You can open it up. You can touch it. You can open those pictures and that's the real picture."

At Delmont Public Library they have what library director Dianne Rigby calls Pennsylvania Shelves.

"Anything we can find about Delmont is in here. But also surrounding communities like Manor, Greensburg and Export."

Delmont's library shelves contain books about fun things to do in the area, local sports teams, and Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania history.

"I have used a lot of memorial and honor money to purchase quite a bit in the four years that I've been here," Rigby said. "I just think it's important to have local stuff, and it is used."

The most circulated books from this area of the library are Helene Smith's "Export" and Clare Ansberry's "The Women of Troy Hill."

"It's about Troy Hill in Pittsburgh and some of the women who are mentioned in here are still alive," Rigby said.

After reading the book, the library's book club went in to Troy Hill and took a tour of a church with a priest and went out to lunch with ladies from the book.

"It's very popular with book clubs," Rigby said.

Rigby recently purchased a book on Salem Lutheran Church that includes baptism records from 1850 to 1879.

The day after she bought it, she had an inquiry from a woman in Seattle. Ironically enough, Rigby checked the new book and found two of her relatives.

Norwin Public Library designed its new library to have a room to be used exclusively for historical materials.

The room contains a wealth of knowledge including various Irwin papers back to the 1800s, community histories, yearbooks, census records, ancestry resources, cemetery records and church histories.

In some cases patrons must make an appointment to look at certain items, explained Brian Kissler, who specializes in technical services at the library.

A recent addition to the collection are fire insurance maps that date back to 1909 and 1923. The maps show an overview of Irwin and North Irwin. A color coding illustrates what the structures are made of -- wood, brick or stone.

The library received the maps from John Duncan of the Duncan Insurance Agency.

"He found them in storage," Kissler said. "They are a little bit fragile."

Kissler pointed out they may come in handy with local efforts such as the Irwin Project because they show things that aren't there anymore.

Kissler enjoyed examining a docket book from Irwin borough that dated back to the 1890s. He said it had records of miners in the area who had not paid their rent.

Military records include an extensive collection of newspaper clippings saved during World War II of service men and women within the immediate area.

"It's really quite a collection for anyone interested in that era or anyone who had served," Kissler said.

Those with perhaps a more casual interest in history can stop by the display case near the history room where there are short-term rotating displays funded by the friends organization in conjunction with the Norwin Historical Society.

A recent display centered on a snowstorm that took place around Thanksgiving in 1950. The storm was so bad motorists were stranded along the Pennsylvania Turnpike. The town of Irwin responded to their need and many churches took people in, providing food and shelter.

The display included photos and a plaque that was given by trucking companies in gratitude to the community.

Uncovering history from the neighborhood and surrounding areas is a big deal to Mary Anne Fulmer, who is the library director at Penn Area Library.

The library is highlighting local history as one of its categories for the winter/spring reading program. It began on Jan. 14 and will run through April 21.

Patrons receive a raffle ticket to be eligible for a $100 gift certificate for gasoline just for signing up. Those who continue with the program get a raffle ticket for each book they read in a category. Prizes, including additional gift cards, will be drawn on April 22.

Selections to choose from include: John W. Mochnick's "History of Penn Township;" "Penn Township 150 Anniversary Album;" Terry and Kathy Perich's book "Jeannette, PA" from the Postcard History Series; "Manor," edited by Gail Noll, Dorothy Y. Miller and James Thompson; Helene Smith's "Export;" "The History of the County of Westmoreland," by Dallas Albert; and "Trafford 75th Anniversary, 1904-1979 Souvenir Book."

Fulmer said there's nothing better to do a cold day than to grab a cup of coffee and settle into a comfortable chair to enjoy one of these fascinating books.

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