The Manchester Miracle

Look what you did. Yes you. All of you here in Yinzer Nation have created a miracle on the Northside. Just three weeks ago, the library at Pittsburgh Manchester preK-8 had only forty books in its fiction section. Sheila May-Stein, newly hired by the District to rotate through several buildings to rebuild their libraries, snapped the now-iconic photo of those empty shelves.

As you know, our call to fill those shelves went completely viral and literally thousands of people around the world shared this story. Celebrities were tweeting and blogging about it; we were on the news; we were on the front page of the paper. As of today, you have purchased over 850 brand new books for the library from an Amazon wish list. By the end of that first week, boxes had started pouring in from as far away as England, Canada, and Australia. People near and far dropped off literally thousands of donated books. [See “Library Books and Equity” for the original story and “A Picture is Worth 1,000 Books” for an explanation of how this situation occurred in the first place.]

But even more important than all of those wonderful books, is the way that this Manchester Miracle has pulled together the entire community. School libraries have become one of the canaries in the coalmine of public education: rather than accept their demise, Southwest Pennsylvania has stepped up to pump oxygen back into the system. Most importantly, the local neighborhood has embraced the Manchester library and is shaping this action to meet its own needs. That’s what real community empowerment looks like.

Get out your tissues, because the following list (and slideshow at the end) might just make you cry with happiness. And as you read, please look for further volunteer opportunities! We still need lots of help coordinating this Manchester Miracle:

  • Through her foundation Educating Teens, Inc. (which does HIV Awareness and community uplift), Manchester neighborhood resident Kezia Ellison approached Sam’s Club and got them to commit to completely refurbishing the library. They will repaint, install new lights, carpeting, shelves, furniture, and a circulation desk. And they will donate a bank of computers for the students to use. The Pittsburgh school board approved this last night and the work will be done in just two weeks! (That’s a miracle right there.)
  • Perlora has donated two designers who will work to transform the space.
  • Kezia Ellison is also working with the school’s #1 amazing community volunteer, Mr. Wallace Sapp, who is in the school almost every day, on a new project they’re calling Manchester Reads. They have big ideas for getting local celebrities on posters with books in their hands, and for using the school library as a local community resource.
  • The students and staff at Abraham Lincoln Elementary School in Bethel Park raised over $234 to buy books. They used buckets and signs to advertise, then voted on which books on the Amazon wish list they wanted to donate.
  • The Literary Guild book club at Baldwin High School in the South Hills is sponsoring a book drive.
  • A second grader at Pittsburgh Colfax held a bake sale at his family’s yard sale, and decided to split the money between his school library and Manchester’s. When Sheila picked up his little card, $20 slid out, and she said, “If 7- or 8-year old boys can go to this much effort to heal the world, surely the rest of us can. Thank you, darling boy!”
  • A mom from Mt. Lebanon brought a flatbed of book donations to Manchester that her 8-year old daughter and her daughter’s friends had collected.
  • Amy Boardley Watson, Kristie Orchard-Lindblom, and Jen Primack are making large pillows for children to lounge on while reading books – especially helpful for children in the school’s autism program.
  • Famous children’s author Laurie Halse Anderson not only blogged and tweeted about us, she sent a huge package including her picture books, books unique to the African American experience, her novels, and a gorgeous audio book collection.
  • Katha Pollitt, author and award-winning The Nation columnist, sent a huge box of books and a personal note.
  • The PPG corporate librarians are working on setting up a two-year grant for the school.
  • Students in the University of Pittsburgh’s Library Information Science (MLIS) program want to volunteer to help catalogue all the new books.
  • Bridget Belardi-Creath (a Pitt MLIS graduate with Sheila) typed out 2,000 labels for books and sent them in.
  • Teresa Smith, a mother and teacher at Manchester, bought a brand new ficus tree for the library.
  • One day recently, Sheila reported that, “A drop-dead movie star of a parent engagement specialist came through the door with a plan to get the community and parents involved.”
  • Rachel Lamory of Animal Nature collected many books to donate.
  • A group of inspiring women from the local Bidwell Church are looking forward to volunteering.
  • Brenda Simpson, a grandmother from the Manchester neighborhood, has been coming in to volunteer for hours before she goes to work in the Post Office.
  • Keturah Wasler, a volunteer from East Liberty, works all day like a whirlwind.
  • Kathie is a mom from Lawrenceville with kids in private schools who is so passionate about public education that she has been volunteering entire days of her time to work in the library.
  • Reading is FUNdamental has volunteered.
  • Bridget Kennedy from the Leadership Program at CORO Pittsburgh has been volunteering. Can you join these folks and volunteer a few hours of your time during the school day?
  • Joe Wos from ToonSeum set up a 20% discount program on any graphic novels (a favorite among kinds) purchased for donation to the cause at the museum. They will also be sending over a slew of new graphic novels and comics and have offered a free cartooning workshop for the kids. Who can follow up with them?
  • Beginning with Books co-founder donated a large number of books and then wrote to her book club and two writing groups to help spread the word
  • Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild offered to have a book drive and get involved with the school. They would be a terrific partner for a followup celebration. Who would like to coordinate?
  • A local Usborne Books representative would like to set up an online book fair. Anyone like to coordinate with her?
  • Phat Man Dee, a local jazz band, is interested in doing a fundraiser. Who wants to speak with them?
  • The Allegheny Library branch wants to help, but we need someone to coordinate with them.
  • The boys in the Pittsburgh Colfax middle level “Guys Read” club plan to organize joint field trips with the middle level Manchester students to talk about some of their favorite books together.
  • Carnegie Mellon University reached out to the District and offered to connect local corporations with individual school’s Amazon wish lists. It’s possible that other schools will be using the Manchester model and this will help fill the shelves at the remaining schools without libraries.
  • A national group of writers was so inspired by our work that they started a project, “Fill The Shelves,” that is using our model around the country. They have already helped several school libraries.
  • Deborah El, children’s librarian in the Carnegie Library system, helped build the Amazon wish list, and is keeping it populated. Haven’t bought a book yet? The list is still open for business.
  • Katherine Becker Laney, librarian at Sewickley Academy, picked through their collection for duplicates and sent them over to Manchester.
  • Jonathan Mayo got in his truck and drove thousands of donated books from Sheila’s house to the school. Then he got the Pirates to donate some sports books.
  • Joe Starkey, a local sports writer for the Trib and radio personality, came into the school this week with lots of donated sports books and read to the students.

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Are you sniffling yet? I hope you are feeling inspired by this incredible action. And I also hope we remember the underlying problems of equity and funding that we must work to address head-on. If anything, this list ought to remind us of the incredible amount of work it takes to operate and maintain a school library – work that cannot be sustainably provided by volunteers and that cannot happen when our schools only have a librarian one day per week.

Pittsburgh’s new equity plan calls for a library in every school, but does not place a full time librarian in each. In fact, only 14 out of 51 schools currently have a full time librarian and most of the district’s librarians have five schools assigned to them. Some schools that used to have a full time professional have lost those services, which is really a step away from equity for all. Through staff reductions, the District also lost its head librarian, an essential position for coordinating efforts throughout the city, planning collection development, and capitalizing on economies of scale when purchasing books – none of which now seems to be happening.

Pittsburgh alone has lost over $28 MILLION in the past two years of draconian state budget cuts. [See newly revised PSEA Budget Calculator] We need to be asking serious questions of both the District and our state legislators and holding them accountable for adequate and equitable funding for our schools. But if our grassroots movement can pull off the Manchester Miracle, surely it’s up to the task.

13 thoughts on “The Manchester Miracle

  1. My head spins, my heart bursts and my eyes flow all day long. What a wonderful project this is! Thanks to all who have made it real!

    • Thank you, Sheila, and Yinzer Nation, for this amazing miracle!

      As one of the Pittsburgh Public School librarians assigned to provide library services in 5 different school libraries to a total of nearly 2,000 students, I certainly know how very fortunate the children of Manchester are to have you working to build the library that all of our children deserve and need.

      With your heroic efforts you have proven that wishes can be fulfilled, and also restored my hope for a better future for all of our children!

      May the Manchester Miracle continue to grow throughout the city.

  2. I’m an electrician who has done wiring in Obama (Reizenstein), Langley, Mifflin, Crescent (Faison), for Local # 5 union electrical contractors.  If the construction re-vamp efforts on the library by Ms. Ellison and Sam’s Club needs an experienced tradesperson to volunteer labor hours, I could help.  I’m right across the river in Duquesne Heights, have my own hand tools, and have the time to donate.

  3. Pingback: Fill The Shelves – A Great New Initiative To Help Underfunded School Libraries | David Gaughran

  4. Pingback: The Manchester Miracle | The well designed life

  5. Pingback: Fill the Shelves - IndieReader :: the first and only source for news, professional reviews and opinion on the exploding independent books scene

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