Community Library of Allegheny Valley celebrating 95th anniversary |
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Brian C. Rittmeyer
The first home of the Tarentum library was in the YMCA on East Seventh Avenue, now home to Gatto Cycle Shop. Built in 1900, it opened in 1901 with a reading room there for a short time. The library reopened in 1923 on the first floor, and was there until 1943.

The Community Library of Allegheny Valley will celebrate its 95th anniversary this week.

The observance will include daily events, programs and activities at both locations in Tarentum and Harrison beginning Monday and running through Saturday.

While a reading room was opened in the Tarentum YMCA in 1901, it latest only a few years, according to Tarentum history buff Cindy Homburg, also a member of the library’s board of directors. Today’s library traces its history to 1923, when a group of concerned citizens got together to form a new library.

Then known as the Tarentum Public Library, the grand opening was celebrated on Jan. 12, 1924.

The library has had five homes in Tarentum; it’s been on Lock Street since 2004.

The name was changed to Community Library of Allegheny Valley in 1958. The Harrison branch opened on Broadview Boulevard in Natrona Heights in 1998.

Homburg will host a program on the library’s history from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Harrison location.

“We’re one of the oldest libraries in the county,” said Kathy Firestone, who has been the library’s director for 26 years. “We have managed to come through so many changes in those 95 years. I’m sure, when it started as a reading room, nobody could have, in their wildest dreams, imagined what a public library would end up being years down the road.”

The library serves about 23,000 people across Tarentum, Harrison, Brackenridge, Fawn, Frazer and East Deer. About 9,000 people have library cards, Firestone said .

It circulates about 125,000 items a year, consisting largely of books, followed by DVDs, Firestone said. Nearly 14,000 people attended programs at both branches.

While some had predicted the demise of libraries thanks to technology and the internet, Firestone said technology is one reason why the library remains relevant.

“There are people who cannot afford to have all the latest technology or even, sometimes, the basic technology of a computer. Libraries are here for that reason,” she said. “We’ve become more of a community center, the place to be, a gathering place. With technology, people are losing togetherness.”

“We’re here to serve people in the way they want to be served,” she said. “It’s up to the community to form the kind of library that works for them. We’re here for everybody, for all ages. We do what we can on our limited budget to meet all the needs of everybody.”

Genealogy, local history popular

The Tarentum library is known for its local history and genealogy resources.

“It’s just jammed in there,” said Homburg, who has been on the library’s board of directors since 2009. “We really could use something bigger.”

As part of the anniversary observance, a three-part series on genealogy will be held at the Tarentum branch, on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. With limited seating, Firestone suggested those interested in attending call the library to register for those programs at 724-226-0770.

The library’s resources include cemetery records, old newspapers and Census information on microfilm.

“The local history is the focal point of the Tarentum building,” Firestone said. “People from all over the country contact us to look up family because they’re doing their genealogy.”

The library has 15 employees and about 10 volunteers.

A financial struggle

Firestone said it’s doing “great, except financially.”

“We have more and more demands on us. We’re an independent library,” she said. “We have laws we have to follow, things we have to do that we don’t necessarily get extra money for. We haven’t had any extra money from the state in probably the last 15 years.”

The library gets most of its funding from the state and the Allegheny County Regional Asset District (RAD). Firestone said state funding still has not recovered from a reduction in the late 1990s.

The library lost between $40,000 and $50,000 a year, she said. The yearly gap between what it gets and what it needs is now about $75,000.

“We do a lot of fundraising. We have some investments we use, but we’re not adding back to those investments. We try to use as little as possible. You can’t keep doing that,” she said. “It would be nice if the state would ante up at least back to our original numbers. We lost a lot of money.”

Brian Rittmeyer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Brian at 724-226-4701, [email protected] or via Twitter @BCRittmeyer.

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