Kids and adults participate in a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics walk-up program at the Duquesne branch of the Carnegie Library of McKeesport, which is located in the Mon Valley city’s school, on July 22, 2022. (Photo by Clare Sheedy/PublicSource)
The one-room library branch in the City of Duquesne is just reaching state standards for opening hours. But help may be on the way for libraries serving distressed communities.
On a Tuesday evening in October in the Duquesne branch of the Carnegie Library of McKeesport, a lone teen was hanging out while the librarian worked at her computer.
A broken clock on the wall was stuck at a few minutes before 2 o’clock.
It was quiet at the library — some might even say too quiet.
Tucked away in the community’s elementary school and until recently open only eight hours a week, the library branch in this Mon Valley community sometimes struggles to attract patrons.
Since Oct. 31, library officials are finally — though barely — meeting state minimum standards by having the branch be open 20 hours a week. The library’s director says they are working to get the word out about the services and programs they offer.
On this evening, though, Duquesne teen Cristian Davis was the sole patron, playing video games on the computer. He couldn’t check out any books because of the fines he owed.
He said he enjoys coming here when there’s nothing to do outside.
“Most of the time it’s chill, you know, come here. There’s a lot of books, a lot of options. You know, even there are some interesting books on the shelves. Really. Just come here, hang out, chill out, you know, have fun,” he said.
Some libraries in Allegheny County are open 60 to 70 hours per week. Duquesne’s branch — part of just one of 46 separate library systems in the county — highlights the disparities in local library staffing, finances, programming and services. WESA and PublicSource have chronicled some of those disparities and how they have been fueled by the region’s fragmentation and funding formulas that push Regional Asset District [RAD] tax revenues to libraries that have higher circulation and more local funding.
The Duquesne Branch of the Carnegie Library of McKeesport is in the former Duquesne High School, which is now the Duquesne Education Center and Duquesne School District building, as pictured on Oct. 25, 2022, in the city of Duquesne. (Photo by Stephanie Strasburg/PublicSource)
However, more funds are poised to soon flow to libraries in some of the county’s most distressed communities.
RAD Board Vice Chair Dan Griffin said a library “can be a resume center, it can be a community area, it can be a senior center, it can be a kids’ library center, it can be an after-school study center, it can be all of the above.”
That, he added, is why libraries are so vital to disadvantaged communities. “There’s a huge differential between people who have access to high-speed internet, people who have access to good libraries, etcetera, and those who don’t.”