Oakmont Carnegie Library History
By Cheryl Zentgraf and Stephanie Zimble
The Early Years, 1899-1925
In 1899, the Oakmont School board passed a resolution to “provide a place and establish a free, non-sectarian public library for the general use of residents of this district.”
In an effort to carry out this resolution, the Board contacted Oakmont resident, L.M. Morris, who wrote to his cousin seeking financial assistance. His cousin, Andrew Carnegie, responded by welcoming L.M. Morris to the “sacred guild of library builders.” Mr. Carnegie offered $20,000 in aid as long as there was a local commitment of $2,000 for maintenance.
The School Board proceeded to elect six prominent Oakmont citizens to serve as the Board of Trustees for the Library, L.M. Morris among them.
Andrew Carnegie then corresponded to the Trustees saying “Gentlemen, having been assured that the library would be maintained by the Public Authorities, I am delighted to give you twenty-five thousand dollars.”
The Trustees then purchased from Mrs. Salinda Anderson a plot of ground at the corner of East Railroad Avenue and “E” Street for the site of the library for $2,500. Architects, Alden and Harlow, were instructed to draw up building plans for the library. Due to the rise in the cost of labor and materials, the first set of plans were found to be too expensive. The Trustees ordered a second and final set of plans which outlined a building 32’ x 76’ in size.
In 1900, the School Board received bids for the construction of the library building from five contractors. The successful low bid of $17,956 was awarded to Oakmont contractor William Braithwait.
In 1901, the Board of Trustees authorized the purchase of 2,603 volumes and a number of periodicals at a cost not to exceed $3,000. Oakmont resident Miss Cora B. Morris was elected to serve as the first librarian and her salary was $50.00 a month.
Miss Morris served as librarian for eleven years and during her employment, the library basement was rented to First National Bank, utilized for meetings by Oakmont Borough Council, and was used for a short time as a fourth grade school room.
In 1912, Miss Blanche McIlvaine of Oakmont was named librarian at $70.00 a month. During her term as librarian, the Oakmont Visiting Nursing Mission and the Socialist Party held meetings in the library basement. The library was closed for a brief period by the Board of Health due to the prevalence of scarlet fever in the Borough.
The School Board, which assumed control of the library by dissolving the Board of Trustees, ordered the library to open on Sunday afternoons from 2:00 pm to 7:30 pm. The librarian was compensated $3.00 per Sunday and the janitor $1.00 for Sunday.
When Miss McIlvaine died in November 1922, Mrs. Anna D. Schoonover held the position of librarian until June of 1923. The Library Committee of the School Board then secured the services of Miss Laura C. Bailey of Wilkinsburg to be librarian at $150.00 a month. It was at this time that the first typewriter was purchased for use by the librarian.
In 1925, the janitor and several library assistants reported to the Library Committee that they were “severing their connections with the unpleasantness of the Librarian, Miss Bailey.” One assistant referred to Miss Bailey as “temperamental, cold, unsympathetic and full of notions.” Letters relating to Miss Bailey and her notions remain in the library archives to this day.
The School Board questioned some of Miss Bailey’s actions, and recommendations were made to her regarding work hours, the ordering of supplies and the use of the library. During the winter months, Miss Bailey was residing with Oakmont resident, Mrs. Emma Witherspoon. It was Mrs. Witherspoon who rose to the defense of Miss Bailey, writing to the Library Committee that she “didn’t want to make this a public scandal, but that I know dozens of the best taxpayers in this town who would shout with one voice: ‘Don’t fire Miss Bailey’.” In fact, a petition circulated, signed by people who did not wish her to resign. This petition also remains in the library archives. The Library Committee did not fire Miss Bailey, but within three months she resigned her position.