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.”