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(Photo special to Tube City Almanac)
Working at the Carnegie Library of McKeesport feels like home to Colleen Denne of Elizabeth Twp., who took over as director on Jan. 3.
A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh with a master's degree in library science, Denne, who grew up in Liberty Borough, says she feels very connected to her new job.
"My dad's family is from Duquesne, and my mom's family is from McKeesport," Denne says. "These are my roots. This is my home library. I don't think it would mean as much to me anywhere else."
Founded in 1902 and located in the city's Library and Cultural District, the Carnegie Library of McKeesport is one of the largest in the Pittsburgh area, behind Northland, Mt. Lebanon, Penn Hills, and of course, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.
The McKeesport library operates branches in Duquesne and White Oak (an Elizabeth Twp. branch closed due to lack of funding). Although independent and governed by a non-profit board in McKeesport, the library shares resources with more than 60 others that belong to the Allegheny County Library Association.
According to the State Library of Pennsylvania, which tracks library usage, in 2016 the McKeesport library system circulated 137,673 items, including books, DVDs and music, loaning 54,466 items to other libraries and receiving 41,439 in return.
"Books are still circulating, but people request all types of material," Denne says. New fiction, biographies and political non-fiction books are extremely popular, she says. The Carnegie Library of McKeesport also loans e-books for use with tablets and readers.
Reference books --- like encyclopedias --- are almost a thing of the past, Denne says, because information is much more up-to-date electronically.
But here, too, the Carnegie Library of McKeesport's staff play a role in helping visitors to search both public databases and private ones to which the library subscribes. "We offer a lot of help to people who are trying to look for information online," Denne says. "Sometimes, they have no idea where to start."
Activities are available almost every day for both children and adults, including an upcoming painting event called "Brunch and Brushes" that will be held at 1 p.m. Feb. 11 and led by Jan Catalogna of McKeesport Art Group. Pre-registration is required and costs $30. Call (412) 672-0625.
The library also has launched a current-events discussion group and has a cookbook club, a knitting group, and offers movies. In addition, job-searching help through PA CareerLink is available on Mondays and Tuesdays.
"This place has evolved with the times, and is still strong," Denne says.
She credits a "great" staff with organizing the activities and keeping the library busy through several transitions in leadership. Denne is the third library director since 2013, when former longtime director Jo Ellen Kenney retired.
Becoming the library's director represents a return to the field after several years working at home and raising her children, now 13 and 16. Denne's first job was opening a new prison library at a correctional facility in Marion, Ohio. She later worked at a corrections facility in Belmont, Ohio, and as a librarian at Belmont College, then known as Belmont Technical College.
But working at the Carnegie Library of McKeesport is special, Denne says. "It seems like every day I see people I know," she says. "When you're rooted somewhere, you come back."
In cooperation with the city and the non-profit GTECH Strategies, the library is preparing to break ground on a new 30-car parking lot. Getting the lot in place is Denne's first priority. Her next goal will be to raise money to renovate the library's third floor, which is currently not accessible to the public and is used for storage.
She envisions the third floor, once brought up to modern day standards, as a community meeting room for the neighborhood and the city.
Denne says the White Oak Branch is extremely busy, but feels the Duquesne Branch is under-utilized. She is looking for ways to add more programming in Duquesne, especially for children and young adults.
"We are very relevant," Denne says. "We are out in the community and we are connecting to people."
Originally published February 05, 2018.