Library Books and Equity

Here’s a story to warm your hearts and fire up your engines all at the same time. In just 24 hours, Yinzer Nation has gone viral again, this time rising to the cause of a pitiful situation in a local public school library.

On Tuesday afternoon, Sheila May-Stein posted the following photo to my wall on Facebook, explaining that this is the entire fiction section in the library at Pittsburgh Manchester preK-8. There are only 40 usable books. She wrote that she was “Feeling overwhelmed and despondent when I see pictures of ipad labs and brand new books and all the other privileges white suburban kids have when I compare it to what the kids at this school have. They are learning every day that they aren’t worth clean, fresh paint and unstained carpets and books that aren’t 65 years old.”

Manchester, a public school in the city’s long-struggling Northside neighborhood, has not had a librarian or a library in years. The students are over 90% African-American. These facts alone raises serious issues about equity within the Pittsburgh Public School district, since schools in other parts of the city have maintained lovely libraries. Last year, 49 of the city’s 59 schools had libraries, begging the question, what happened to the missing ten? However, the District has recently committed itself to having library services at all schools starting this academic year. [PPS “Equity: Getting to All” report, p. 20] As a result, they have hired Sheila on a temporary basis to work at Manchester getting the library re-opened.

A picture can be worth a thousand words, and her photograph of those destitute shelves has sparked a firestorm. On Tuesday evening, I posted the photo to Yinzercation’s Facebook page and wrote:

We can change this situation right now, this week. We are starting a book donation drive — perhaps make Manchester your new library-sister-school? The kids need FICTION only, appropriate for kids in 2nd-8th grade in GREAT condition. All donations can be dropped off on Sheila’s porch in Squirrel Hill (contact us for address if you’re local) or, boxed up, and sent to Manchester Elementary, labeled for the Library. You can also check out the Amazon Wish List for Manchester if you prefer to send them something new.

I told my boys about this situation in the car on the way home today and they were completely baffled that other Pittsburgh schools did not have Colfax’s wonderful library full of books. They immediately came home and started collecting books. My oldest said, “I can find 20 right here — and that’s already half of what the school has.” His brother added, “I bet I can find 10 friends to donate books, too, and then we’ll have at least 200!” I think he’s right. We took literally five minutes to gather up a beautiful huge pile and I will take them over to Sheila tomorrow.

Within 24 hours, over 600 people had seen that original post and over 118 people had shared it on their own walls and with their networks. We started hearing from people all across the United States and even abroad who want to help. Boxes started appearing on Sheila’s porch and by last night over 80 brand new books had been ordered from the Amazon Wish List. That number is bound to explode today as word continues to spread on social media:

  • Neil Gaiman, the mega-award winning English author of The Sandman, Coraline, and many other books and graphic novels, tweeted about this with a link to our original post;
  • kids at another Pittsburgh public school donated gift certificates they had received for their own book fair;
  • a teacher is taking up a collection in his room;
  • businesses are sending around the notice on their internal mailing lists;
  • a major local non-profit is interested in getting involved;
  • Samaire Provost, a U.S. author, is sending two full sets of her Paranormal series geared for kids;
  • A woman from Manchester in the U.K. wrote, “How’s your ancient literature (still fiction!) section? Every library should have one. … I’ll see what I can send over the pond.”

Sheila reports that, “When I told the Principal she just about cried. Wait ‘til the kids see! Wait ‘til the loving, overworked teachers see! Wait ‘til the overworked, exhausted, dedicated parents see these books coming home in their children’s hands! You are showing Manchester’s children that THEY MATTER.”

Here again are those addresses so you, too, can be a part of this success story.

  • Pittsburgh Manchester PreK-8 (label packages for the Library)
    1612 Manhattan Street
    Pittsburgh, PA 15233
  • Sheila’s Amazon Wish List for Manchester
  • Sheila’s front porch (if you’re local; contact us if you need the address)

Sheila has promised to share photos with us as the shelves begin to fill. And if they overflow, all that goodwill be donated to other Pittsburgh Public School libraries that are being reconstituted this year. This is what we can do, working together. As I said in my original post, “Don’t wait. Here’s one small thing we can fix right now. And then we will keep fighting to make sure we are dealing head-on with the underlying equity issue that permits this to happen in our schools.”

71 thoughts on “Library Books and Equity

  1. Neil Gaiman saved our school librarians in Los Angeles one year. He is wonderful! Best of luck!! This was a wonderful post!! But we really need to fight for funding all of our libraries in some global way as well.

  2. In order for the library to be functioning properly, not only does it need books, but those books should be cataloged into the online library system accessible to the school population. Current student and teacher data should be loaded into the system each year and kept up-to-date. A physical computer with scanner should be set up in the library to check out and return books. Returns and overdue books tracked. Inventory should be run once a year. Collection development should be planned for all ages in the school.

    How can a librarian in the building one day per week do this AND check out books to students AND offer any type of library instruction?

    Books are just the first step. We need adequate funding for libraries in schools.

  3. Ellen Degeneres and JC Penney gave $100,000 to a school staffed with Teach for America participants — rather than putting corporate muscle toward advocating to RESOURCE all the “under-resourced” schools that turn to TFA for largely smart, enthusiastic, but largely transient young teachers.

    Barbara McDowell Dowdall
    English Department Head (Ret.)
    A. Philip Randolph Technical High School
    Philadelphia PA

    Yale National Initiative Fellow
    2005, 2006, 2009
    (Where I met many Pittsburgh public school teachers from their Teachers Institute. An inspiring bunch!)
    Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

  4. I bought Twilight The Graphic Novel from the Wish List. It should arrive at the school early next week. I started reading at a late age because of a school library. Now I read ALL the time. I’m glad I could be a part of helping a school in Pittsburgh.

  5. What are the names of the other 9 schools?

    By the way, if a non-profit formally gets behind this, they can raise money to fix these libraries on the ‘Pittsburgh Day Of Giving’ Oct 3rd, and a portion of funds raised will be ‘matched’! (

    I will pass the word along to the employees of the 9-1-1 emergency services department…


    • The schools are not listed in the PPS report. Obviously Manchester was one of them. I am still waiting for PPS to get back to me — I have many questions for them and am hoping we can learn more about equity and resource distribution. I also want to learn more about how this ties into the issue of state funding and the massive budget cuts we have seen. For instance, many schools in Pittsburgh have actually LOST library services this year because of the budget cuts. The librarian at my sons’ school now has to teach two classes on top of her regular library duties — and we’re lucky to still have her as a full time employee, since even that was in question. This situation is intolerable, but there are many layers to it, and ultimately it is about priorities.

      • I got this from the list we had last year. These schools were listed as having no librarian. Some may have been staffed later in the year, but because we no longer have a department head, the list has not been updated for some time. (This list still exists on the district Website – but can only be seen by employees.) Some of these schools are now closed. These schools had no librarian in the 2011/12 school year: Arsenal 6-8, Beechwood PreK – 5, Fort Pitt K-5, Liberty K-5, Lincoln Primary Campus K-5, Manchester K-8, Mifflin K-8, Miller K-8, Minadeo PreK – 5, Murray K-8, Northview PreK-5, Schiller Classical 6-8, South Hills Middle 6-8.

  6. I just dropped some of my son’s books off. They were very grateful for all the publicity in the office. Reading is such an important part of my family’s life. How can you expect to excite children about reading without any books! I hope to see updates.

    • Cindy, I will work to find out how to make donations work for Manchester, and Pittsburgh Public Schools in general. For now, I advise using the Amazon Wish List to send books directly. Thank you!

      • OK….might work in their favor…..I just order placed an order on site…..not many on there….some I purchased 2 of each 🙂

    • Yes, I’ve asked Sheila to see if she can put more on there. For now, please feel free to purchase any FICTION for kids aged 7-14 — chapter books especially needed — and have them sent to Manchester preK-8. Mark them for the library. Here’s the address:
      1612 Manhattan Street
      Pittsburgh, PA 15233

  7. Last time I checked a few years back, Pittsburgh Public Schools Resource Library had a vast book collection that librarians could request on loan to their library as needed. At that time PPS also had a very good deal with Baker & Taylor book wholesaler for extremely discounted fees for library grade, hardcover books. Children’s librarians maintain various lists of recommended books for various ages, and PPS had certain standards for book selection. All of these economical, quantity of scale use of resources depended upon STAFF to actually make them happen.

    Staff cuts to the library department are now causing well meaning, concerned citizens to scramble to fill shelves with donated books. Although highly commendable, I want more for our children. This still leaves our schools without the means to ensure kids are matched with appropriate books, that kids learn information gathering and library skills, and we are missing an opportunity to instill in our kids a respect and love for libraries. But most importantly, we are leaving a professional service to be filled by volunteers because the school district cannot find the resources to pay the staff costs.

    Please, please do not forget the most important resource that is not being funded by PPS – trained, professional LIBRARIANS! Under the disguise of “Equity for All”, PPS has effectively cut library services to ALL schools by having a librarian one day a week at every school. Schools who used to have a librarian 3-5 days/week can rest on their work for a few years before things begin to fall apart in their libraries. A librarian at a school one day per week might be able to check in and out books for a percentage of the student population every week, but will be hard pressed to accomplish anything else. But schools who had no librarian will not be able to get a library up and running with a librarian in the building only one day per week.

    Can anyone donate a LIBRARIAN for this school? Or a squad of librarians for the whole district? Unfortunately, private donations cannot cover staff expenses.

    • Yes, this is exactly the underlying equity issue that we must deal with. It has everything to do with priorities, both here in the District and, crucially, at the state level, too. We cannot ignore the terrible attack on public education and school budgets being perpetuated here in PA and across the nation in the name of corporate style “reform”.

  8. Thanks everyone for sharing and please donate! The teachers and children work SO hard and GIVE so much at Manchester.

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  10. In some respects, donating books when libraries are understaffed may feel symbolic — but it’s an important symbol nonetheless. For the teachers and librarians of Manchester and the PPS, we’re saying “The work you do matters.” For the students, we’re sending a visible reminder to each that she matters and a practical resource for her growth. For us, it provides us the occasion to write to the Governor and/or to visit our representatives to say “THIS is absurd.” It’s my hope that voters will not forget these empty shelves, a consequence of a budget beyond austerity and an administration that has consistently created conditions that allow public funds to flow to private education.

  11. I couldn’t agree more about the need for certified school librarians in every school. As a graduate of Pitt’s School of Library and Information Science, I am a hard-core believer in the gospel of school libraries. School librarians connect school curriculum with the children in front of them, find different books on the same subject at differing reading levels to meet all children where they are, provide professional development to staff, enrich, entertain, guide, inform, teach critical analysis, evaluate web sites, etc. Every PPS Librarian wants her own school, her own students and her own Library to serve with 100% of her body and soul, and every Principal and staff wants one, too. When Gov. Corbett slashed $1Billion from our state budget, he took that service away from our kids. I am beside myself with joy at the goodness and kindness of humanity globally– I mean you, too, Mr. Gaiman!!–all those who have commented, purchased or donated books, etc. Together we are placing beautiful books in the hands of the children in Pittsburgh who desperately need them. This beauty comes from YOU! Thank you, thank you!

    • Hi Sheila,

      Would you please contact me directly? or Alicia Gorman on FB. Our school PTO would like to do a service project next week and get our students involved in providing books to another local school. We want to raise some money to purchase some books from your amazon wish list and have our students help pick the books that their money will purchase. I wanted to know if there is something you are needing that hasn’t been donated or if buying off the wish list is still the best way to go? Is is still OK to just buy K-8 not on the wish list. Our librarian is on board to help me see this through. I look forward to hearing from you and I am excited to reach out and help with BOOKS!!

      • Alicia, I sent your message to Sheila. She is in a school with no internet access today, so it may take some time before you hear back. Thank you so much for your help! This sounds wonderful!

  12. To me, a library is the heart and soul of a school. I am so moved by the sweeping generosity of so many donating to this cause. I am equally unnerved that this was allowed to happen. I eagerly await your assessment of how this came to be and for how long. I am betting that the problem orginated before the state budget cuts. But l am sure you will find out and let us all know.

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  15. Oh, and I am going to make an assumption that reading skills are going to increase over the year to 2 years. Can/will the school track that? Children who are excited to read great books will easily improve their comprehension and vocabulary. Could THIS be one of the problems so many city schools are having? Bad scores as a symptom of the lack of access to interesting fiction? Just a theory.

  16. I’m a current student in Pitt’s MLIS program. Would it be possible to tap into the many students there who want to do children and teen librarianship (and school librarianship) and utilize them for collection development, cataloging, etc…? Many are chomping at the bit to get experience and it seems like a natural pairing.

    • I love this idea! I invite you to talk to the program this week and see if something could be worked out right away with the District. This would be wonderful. By the way, I encourage anyone who is thinking of volunteering in our schools to get clearances right away! (you can visit any school office to get the forms)

    • Oh, please, please, please! Carrie, bring a delegation from SLIS any Monday, Tuesday or Friday to Manchester (and bring Dr. Biagini too!) I will introduce you all to the staff, tour you through the library, introduce you to Room 127 and the gorgeous, loving staff at Manchester! Just don’t come this Monday– I’ll be at Ft. Pitt cherry picking their collection for Manchester– they closed. Friend me on FB and we’ll talk! Sheila May-Stein or Sheila Eloise on FB

  17. I teach in a North Philadelphia School, and not only have we had no library for at least 5 years, but it is now a shell. No books, no shelves, no computers, and no librarian. How can we develop a love and passion for reading when there are no books at school? Our kids can not even go to the public library in the neighborhood, because it is too dangerous. What message are we sending them?

    • We are sending them the message that they aren’t worth state-funded resources that other kids have. And in America, we are unsatisfied with that message. It is time for teachers, Librarians, school nurses, counselors, janitors and especially parents to unite and fight for the agenda we want as Americans. Parents are voters– and they need to start voting pro-education, listen to voices that matter, like Jessie Ramey’s and Diane Ravitch’s, and NOT be swayed by corporate-funded education reformers. They need to reject out of hand movies like Won’t Back Down, a Wal-Mart funded slick ploy to get more schools into for-profit charter school CEOs’ hands. We have to educate ourselves and stay true to our vision 100% ruthlessly. Take no prisoners. Our children are worth it. And my neighbor’s children are too. And Philadelphia’s children are too!

      • I appreciate the support, and the response. I wish there was some way to make something like this happen in Philly. I have tried a number of things, and haunt flea markets and dollar stores for deals, so my classroom has what it needs, but there are new teachers in our building who do not have one piece of literature on their shelves!


    • Ms. Altenbaugh, you are wonderful, and I am delighted to know that we Librarians stay radical and involved after retirement. My mother-in-law is a retired PPS Librarian as well. We Librarians have to stick together! Thank you very much for your generosity!

  19. My wife and I purchased one of the books off the Amazon wishlist last night but we also went to Goodwill and bought a stack of books. Their children’s books are only 50 cents each and some of the stores have 100s of them. Sometimes they price the hardcover ones at $1.99 but if you talk to the manager and explain why you are buying them, they should give them to you for 50 cents.

    • Jason, it is people like you who make this story what it is: a miracle of people caring, and then DOING for others. Thank you so much!

  20. Reading was my main pleasure as a child and it’s something that has stayed with me all my life. I believe every child should have access to books. There’s one on the way from the Amazon wishlist (“An Angel for Solomon Singer” – my online “persona” includes the word angel so it seemed appropriate). I hope it finds itself in good company on the shelves and from the comments here and the number of books purchase so far it seems there’s every chance it will. Good luck and I wish the kids many hours of happy exploration in the world of words!

  21. I just bought 3 of the books from the wish list. I hope that the children enjoy not only the books everyone is sending, but also the knowledge that there are people all over the world thinking of them, and wanting to share a love of books and reading.
    Marjorie (Trowbridge, UK)

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  23. Hi, I am a student a Pitt in the MSW program and I heard of this today from my one professors. I have plenty of books that I can donate to the school if I could to Sheila. Please let me know who to contact to get the address.

    • Sheila is asking that books now be dropped off or sent directly to:
      Pittsburgh Manchester PreK-8 (label packages for the Library)
      1612 Manhattan Street
      Pittsburgh, PA 15233

      Thank you for your help! It is most appreciated.

  24. Sorry that I’m a little late on this. Do you still need books? I have quite a few gems and can drop them off at the school in the next week or so.

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  26. Does the library have any Magic Tree House series books or Bailey School Kids series books? If not, I would be willing to donate my collection. Will someone please let me know? This is such a great opportunity to help those who deserve it!

    • We would love those books! Thank you! I am now collecting materials for Pgh Carmalt, a K-8 in Brookline. Are you willing to bring them to the school? Or would you like to drop them off at my house? We are grateful! Thanks, Madison!

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