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‘The library comes to me’

Brian C. Rittmeyer

At age 90, Catherine Armstrong, of Bethel Park, is still learning about life.She does it with the help of a Bethel Park Library program that every three weeks brings books to her home. One of her recent selections: “If I Live to be 100: Lessons from the Centenarians.”

Reading “keeps life interesting,” said Armstrong, a widow of 22 years who still lives in her own home. “That’s why we’re alive. We don’t want to exist. We want to really live.”

Armstrong is one of 28 women now participating in the library’s homebound delivery program, through which the library delivers books to temporarily or permanently homebound residents of Bethel Park, said librarian Mary Mullen. The service is free.

Patrons have ranged from 100 years old to a second-grade student recovering from surgery. But most of the patrons are elderly and live in group residences.

“Bethel Park does have a somewhat aging population,” Mullen said. “The library wants to extend its services to people who can’t come to the library.”

First-time patrons fill out a form to indicate their interests. Mullen said patrons rarely select specific titles, instead relying on her to pick books she knows they will enjoy.

Mullen said the patrons’ interests are varied. One had a keen interest in dinosaurs.

“A lot of people tend to categorize senior reading interests. I think they would be very surprised to find it’s very diverse,” she said.

Library employee Pat DeGregorio delivers the books, filling the trunk of her car with books every three weeks. It’s a job she’s done since the library hired her 10 years ago.

“As long as it’s been around, people are still surprised to hear about the service,” she said.

She often bumps into Meals on Wheels delivery people while making her rounds. “I tell them, ‘You feed their body, I feed their soul,'” she said.

Eleanore Blum, 85, has lived at St. Thomas More Manor for 22 years. Suffering from the effects of polio, she’s been having books delivered to her for 10 years.

“That’s my lifeline,” she said. “Without it, I don’t know what I’d do.”

Eileen Dougherty, 77, learned about the service from Blum and signed up in July 2001. She’s kept track of every book she’s read, noting which she liked and didn’t. Her favorite books are true-life adventures.

Dougherty said she has loved reading since she was a teenager. “I get lost in a book. I can forget everything,” she said.

Among her recent books, Blum said she enjoyed “Rise to Rebellion” by Jeffrey Shaara, about events leading up to the Revolutionary War. She didn’t like former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton’s memoir, “Living History.”

“I think she wrote it because she needed the money,” she said.

An avid reader, Armstrong used to drive to the library, but she has sold her car. Now, “The library comes to me, and I appreciate it,” she said.

DeGregorio’s visits are about more than just books. She’ll stay and chat for a while, and many visits end with a hug.

“You get to know them over the years,” she said. “Some of them don’t get a lot of company, and they really enjoy sitting down and talking.”

There is a cost to DeGregorio’s closeness with her clients. Some die every year. Death is a subject she sometimes talks about with them.

“I feel like I get the best years of their life,” she said. “I think it’s reading that really keeps them going.”

For information on the homebound delivery program, call the Bethel Park Library at (412) 835-2207.


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