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Frequently Asked Questions about Library Volunteering

Last month, we celebrated both National Library Week and National Volunteer Week.  The fact that these two national celebrations always coincide is apropos; I always say “If the library is doing it, volunteers probably do it, too.”

Talking up our volunteers’ accomplishments is one of my favorite things to do, but I realize that there are still a lot of misconceptions about volunteering in general and volunteering for the library in particular, so I thought I’d use a blog post to address them all at once.

Here are a few of the most frequently asked questions I get about Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh volunteers.

How many volunteers does CLP have?

According to our official stats, in 2015, 1,428 volunteers contributed 36,717 hours. That’s an in-kind value of more than $850,000.  About 400 volunteers are active in any given month.

So, do volunteers just shelve books?

Shelving, cleaning and shifting books is important work, and volunteers do help with that sometimes, but make no mistake, it’s far from our primary volunteer role. In fact, we’ve had to turn volunteers away who want to shelve books when we don’t have shelving work available!

Andrew Card-negie

You can even volunteer to be Andrew Card-negie. Seriously.

Volunteers at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh teach global language classes, record audiobooks for visually impaired patrons,  spend hours each week reading with young children, plan special events,  promote library programs and services, facilitate book clubs and lots, lots more.  Look around at all the cool things happening in your neighborhood library — there’s a chance that volunteers can get involved.

Level with  me, are all library volunteers old ladies?

First of all, old ladies are awesome and do really meaningful work to support our community. Secondly, no! We are lucky enough to have support from volunteers of all ages.  One of the things that’s great about the Library is that it’s a meeting place for lots of different folks, and that’s reflected in our volunteer demographics.

We try hard to structure volunteer roles so that there’s a variety. For people who are retired or who have flexible work schedules, we do need daytime help. For people who are busy and would prefer to have evening or weekend options, we’ve got that too.  We even have special opportunities just for teens.  For people who aren’t able, for whatever reason, to make an ongoing commitment, we have one-time and occasional chances to help out with a special program or event.

Bottom line? If you’ve counted yourself out because you think volunteers are one “type” of person, reconsider!

Can I complete a required number of volunteer hours?

Maybe! We do provide lots of opportunities to volunteers who are looking to complete required community service hours, whether they are mandated by school, court, a scouting organization, a religious group or some other entity. We do, however, have to work with realistic time constraints, and sometimes we just don’t have the work available. I always suggest checking out VolunteerMatch.org or PittsburghCares.org as a way to find an opportunity that works with your schedule and deadline. It’s always good to get started on hours as soon as possible — volunteer roles might be more limited than you imagine!


Volunteers from AmeriCorps and Gamma Sigma Sigma (University of Pittsburgh) volunteering in April 2016

Can my group volunteer at the library?

Maybe! It depends on your group size and how flexible you are with your date and volunteering location. We don’t like to make up “busy work” for volunteers, but we are thrilled to have groups help when we have projects, which is often. We have quite a few opportunities for groups to volunteer this summer, so get in touch at 412-622-3168 or volunteers@carnegielibrary.org.

What is the “Friends of the Library” and how is that different from a Volunteer?

The Friends of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is actually a separate, all-volunteer nonprofit organization whose primary focus is fundraising and supporting Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh locations.  All “Friends” are volunteers, but not all volunteers are “Friends.”

If you’d be interested in volunteering to fundraise through book sales or other events and projects, contact Volunteer Services or ask a librarian at your neighborhood library whether that location has it’s own Friends group.

I have a great idea for a class or program I’d like to facilitate at the library! How can I make that happen?

We are thoughtful about adding new programs to our libraries — trying to make sure we balance the needs and wants of our communities with the resources we have available, including space and staff time.  If you’d like to go through the application process, contact the Office of Programs & Partnerships at 412-924-0063  x. 1411 or at  programsandpartnerships@carnegielibrary.org.

Ok, so how do I start volunteering?

The easiest thing to do is fill out a volunteer application form or apply directly to an open volunteer position. If you’d like to talk over your options or you have more questions, get in touch at 412-622-3168 or volunteers@carnegielibrary.org.

Thanks for your support!



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50 Cakes Project Update


Current life motto. Print by Holly van Who.

Remember when I said I wanted to bake 50 cakes in one year? This ridiculous undertaking is still going on. If you’ve ever thought about putting stock into the butter industry, now’s the time, my friends.

I’m almost halfway to my goal. I’ve tackled my fear of layer cakes (spoiler alert: no one really cares about your uneven layers when they are eating delicious homemade cake), listened to tons of Beyonce, spent an embarrassing amount of time pouring over cookbooks, made my first vegan cake and managed to flambé some cherries without causing myself bodily harm.

Here’s a glance at the first half  of my cake project, along with links to the books where I got the recipes; my favorites are in bold.

  1. Lemon Sour Cream Pound Cake (All Cakes Considered by Melissa Gray)
  2. Brown Sugar Pound Cake (All Cakes Considered)
  3. Cinnamon Almond Coffee Cake (All Cakes Considered)
  4. Pumpkin Spice Latte Cake
  5. Chocolate Pound Cake (All Cakes Considered)
  6. Ginger Apple Torte (Food 52 Cookbook: Volume 2)
  7. Cinnamon Roll Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
  8. Coconut-Buttermilk Poundcake
  9. Honey Nut Snack Cake
  10. Luscious Cream Cheese Pound Cake (Bake Happy by Judith Fertig)
  11. Chocolate Truffle Cake  (Bake Happy)
  12. Vegan Devil’s Food Cake with Coconut-Coffee Frosting (Bake Happy)
  13. Chocolate Whiskey Cake
  14. Blood Orange Upside Down Cake (Honey and Jam: Seasonal Baking from my Kitchen in the Mountains by Hannah Queen)

  15. Chocolate Butter Cake with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting (CakeLove: How to Bake Cakes from Scratch by Warren Brown)
  16. Vanilla Cupcakes (I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence by Amy Sedaris)
  17. Neely’s Cookies N Cream Cake
  18. Devil’s Food Cake with Angel Frosting (Baked Explorations by Matt Lewis)
  19. Yellow Butter Cake with Peanut Butter Crunch Buttercream (CakeLove)
  20. Sunday Night Cake (Baked Explorations)
  21. Brooklyn Blackout Cake
  22. Chocolate Cherry Torte (Baking, From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan)
  23. No-Mixer Cake (CakeLove)

What about Make Cake & Drink Cocktails? (Print by Nina J. Charlotte)

Why not try baking a few cakes yourself? Reserve one (or ten) of our delicious cake-baking books now!



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How the Library helped me be a better Big Sister

Volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters has been a big part of my life for years. I was “matched” with my first “Little” right out of college, and we were matched for two years until her family moved out of state.  A few years later, I decided to sign up again, and I’ve been a Big Sis to Lindalee for nearly two years. Spending time with her twice per month is definitely a highlight for me.


Original artwork by Lindalee

Together, we’re into dog walking, cupcake making, car singalongs and bowling; and of course, chatting about our lives, talking about school (Linda is very into Accelerated Reader and multiplication these days) and generally having a good time.

Big Brothers Big Sisters does a great job of hooking up volunteers with resources they need, and even gives tickets to events on occasion, but even so, it can sometimes be a challenge to keep our activities new and fresh (especially in bad weather when we can’t really go outside). Enter: the Library.

One of the easiest things to do when I’m not sure what to plan for an outing is to pull up the library website or app and check on which locations have something going on that my lil’ sis is interested in. We’ve visited a number of different libraries this way, and it’s great! Lego club, maker programs and sensory story time have all been favorites. After we’re done, we read some books and spend time playing games together on the computer (and we once spent nearly 45 minutes googling pictures of baby bats — surprisingly adorable). It’s been really convenient that Linda doesn’t need her own library card to use a computer, so we’re able to explore no matter where we go.

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Lindalee drew this after a attending a bug-themed Story time at the Main library. Afterwards, we played with lots of toys and she used fun-smelling markers on this colorful creation.

The library also helps out when we go on long drives. Because my Little Sis lives about 45 minutes away from me, it can be a haul to get to some of the activities we enjoy.  When I know we’ll  be in the car for a long time, I pick up some of her go-tos like Diary of Wimpy Kid or Dork Diaries, or even just some fun, short picture books to keep her (and I) amused while she reads out loud during the ride. (A recent favorite was I Love Dogs.)

As Linda has gotten more interested in baking and cooking with me, I’ll grab some cookbooks, and we’ll look through them together, read the recipes, shop for ingredients and make some delicious treats. (She also enjoys browsing cookbooks in the car, too.) Recent cookbooks we’ve chosen include  The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook, Smart Cookie and Baking with Kids.

Finally, although Big Brothers Big Sisters does check in with me to make sure everything is going okay, it’s also nice to know I can grab some books on mentoring, how to navigate conversations, or even how to come up with new activities. (I’ve found that browsing parenting books can be useful for mentors, too!)  Here are a few titles that look good to me — I’d love to hear any recommendations anyone has!

p.s. if you live in Pittsburgh and you’re interested in getting involved, Big Brothers Big Sisters is always looking for new mentors. You can get started here.





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Community Advocate and Outstanding Partner Nominees – 2015

Every year, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is lucky enough to benefit from working with hard-working, supportive partner organizations and from the efforts of dedicated library patrons who are engaged in impactful projects. At our Annual Public Meeting, we take some time to recognize these efforts by recognizing one Community Advocate and one Outstanding Partner with a special award.

One blog post cannot fully encapsulate the meaningful work these folks have performed, but we thought this could be one avenue for spreading the word about their impact. So, here’s a quick look at this year’s nominees; If you’re interested in seeing who won, or you’d just like a an update on the state of the Library, feel free to join us at our State of the Library meeting on March 15, 2016 at 6:30 p.m. at CLP-East Liberty.

Community Advocate Award Nominees

  • Kelly Ammerman is a teacher with PPS CITY Connections. She has brought her students to CLP – Allegheny for the past year to participate in programming and to connect students with library resources (Life After High School, the Labs) in accordance with CITY Connection’s mission: Preparing students to live, work, connect and contribute in the community. Kelly and her students even made a video to show the impact of the library in the lives of students.
  • Norene Beatty has been a community activist for many years and is a founding member and secretary of the nonprofit Pittsburgh’s Old Stone Tavern Friends Trust, Inc. She has been studying the ledger from the tavern (1793-1797) in the Oliver Room at CLP – Main for the past several years and has found over 60 veterans of the Revolutionary War among many other of Pittsburgh’s founding citizens. Norene then gives free lectures primarily about the Whiskey Rebellion and why it is so important to save this iconic structure in Pittsburgh’s West End. She is directly embodying the mission of CLP by studying important local history, disseminating this history to the public and helping to not only save a historic building but also to revitalize a community.
  • Jim Cunningham is a host of a classical music show on WQED, and a longtime patron and advocate for the Music, Film, and Audio Department CLP – Main. His primary contributions have been as a head of the Friends of the Music Library and his above-and-beyond promotion of Music performances and programs at the Library. His advocacy has truly been long-term multidimensional.
  • 2015 marked Joe Farinacci‘s 10th year volunteering his time and talents at the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. By now, Joe is an old pro at recording and editing audio books; so much so, that he actually has helped train staff and other volunteers on the equipment and procedures. Joe was profiled on Eleventh Stack last year in this post.
  • Jon Forrester has shown an extremely strong commitment to literacy and learning by offering a Dungeons & Dragons program for teens at CLP – Brookline for more than four years. This interactive storytelling and role-playing program cultivates creativity, teamwork and cooperation, and problem-solving skills. As one of the program’s teen participants put it: “To say that Jon’s only quality was ‘dependable,’ he’d be solid gold for that alone. Witty, clever, consistent, he’s willing to put in the extra effort like updating websites, keeping everyone on the same page, and that really makes him inclusive, and anyone can get on board with that. He’s done the best he can for everyone possible.”
  • Tanya Frederick sewed the Pride Community Quilt, a community art project made at PrideFest 2015. Attendees were asked, “What book changed your story?” and answered the prompt by writing titles of books on squares of quilting fabric. In the months afterward, Tanya worked for more than twenty hours sewing the cloth squares and quilting the fabric, making a beautiful community quilt that will be hung at CLP locations and outreach sites.
  • Since starting as a library volunteer in 2014, Margaret Glatz has been one of the most reliable and enthusiastic volunteers we have. We appreciate Margaret’s willingness to travel to multiple library locations, helping with everything from outreach to children’s programs to language learning
  • Officer David Shifren saw a need for more community connection, so he started up a weekly Chess Club for kids at CLP – Hazelwood. The chess club has become a real staple of after school programming, where he teaches children critical thinking and problem-solving skills through chess. His work was even profiled in this piece in the Tribune-Review.


    Has the city looked a little brighter to you this winter? Thank Adele Speers.

  • Adele (Delli) Speers was the driving force behind CLP’s adoption of the Pop Des Fleurs project. As a Fiber Arts Guild Member, South Sider and library user, she wanted to see our neighborhood bloom! She urged us to have the test installation in January 2015 and worked tirelessly for our Library—making flowers, promoting, planning, volunteering her time at workshops, brainstorming and most importantly, making us all more creative and inspired. The project would not have happened without her enthusiasm and confidence.
  • Caren Surlow has a lifetime of library use under her belt, and has a special soft spot for CLP – West End, where she helps with a multitude of children’s programming and serves as a dedicated member of the Friends of the Library.

Thanks to the committee’s efforts, the 2015 Teen Alternative Homecoming was the most successful yet!

  • We couldn’t imagine a more group of teens more worthy of recognition that the Teen Alternative Homecoming Planning Committee (Kyra Bingham, TaeAjah Cannon, Ana Carballido-Dosal, Leah DeFlitch, Jayne Juffe, Mae Knight, Katina Motta, Kendal Nasiadka, Paige Pegher, Gabriele Spokas, Oliver Sterling-Angus, Sophia Kachur, Maya Best, Abby Redlich), who fully embraced the mission of providing a fun, engaging community experience centered around books and learning, donating over 60 hours of their time in planning meetings, obtaining activity supplies, preparing the event space, assembling programs, selling tickets and distributing promotional materials. Their work attracted 279 teens from all over Pittsburgh to the 2015 Alternative Homecoming event.

Outstanding Partner Award Nominees 

  • The AARP Foundation Tax Aid Assistance Program provides free tax preparation for low-to-moderate-income taxpayers, with a focus on those who are 60 or older. Year after year, their collaboration with CLP – Squirrel Hill has assisted more than 1,000 of our community members, helping them to file for rebates and earned income credits, and avoid insta-loans and interest charges.
  • Bat’s Barber Shop near CLP – East Liberty is the location of one of our first “Community Collections” – books that are free to check out even for community members who may have compromised library cards or a spotty history with the Library. The staff of Bat’s have been great advocates in encouraging community members to read and engage with the Library, and have been hands-on in helping with book selection. As the nominator put it, “The shop uses every opportunity to teach the East Liberty community and visitors to the barbershop about what the Library offers, and the importance of literacy and continued education.”
  • Community Kitchen Pittsburgh has partnered with CLP to promote the value of the Library to participants and encourage use of Library services and programs to aid in job and career searching and as a source of entertainment and education.
  • Dreams of Hope has been instrumental in supporting LGBTQ teens in and out of the Library. The organization has assisted with multiple programs and events, increasing the number of teens who see the library as a safe, welcoming and nurturing place.  We have seen an increase in the number of teens checking out material with LGBTQ themes, and credit our well-supported Gay Straight Alliance groups for a portion of that increase. (We also loved that one of the teens involved Dreams of Hope wrote a play about a librarian who gives resources to an LGBTQ teen!)
Summer Reading Extravaganza

EQT has been a long-time presenting sponsor of the annual Summer Reading kickoff event, Extravaganza.

  • EQT has been a significant supporter of literacy programs at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh for more than a decade.With contributions exceeding $450,000 over the years, including as the presenting sponsor of the annual Summer Reading Extravaganza kickoff event, EQT’s dedication to CLP has provided many opportunities for thousands of children to make strong connections with the Library. This ongoing support is helping the Library to be among our community’s leading organizations that are ensuring the success of our region’s young people.
  • The Family Center Team at the Allegheny County Jail helps by acting as a conduit between the jail, families of inmates, and the library.  Their willingness to explore and welcome us as outreach partners has allowed CLP to reach 493 children and 977 caregivers/parents with library programming, including book giveaways, within the jail in 2015.
  • Lawrenceville United (LU) has demonstrated a deep commitment to further both the mission and vision of CLP, partnering with CLP – Lawrenceville on outreach and programming to children and seniors. LU was also an integral partner in the Historic Lawrenceville: Stories from our Neighbors oral history project. LU acts as an intermediary between community members, their interests and needs, and the other businesses, nonprofits and schools in the neighborhood. LU clearly recognizes the importance of partnering with the Library in order to achieve their goals — and, thereby, the goals of the community at large.
  • For more than 10 years, United Black Book Clubs of Pittsburgh has worked to encourage literacy and highlight the library in the community. Their work with CLP – Homewood includes supporting  numerous events, bringing African American authors to the library branch to meet their fans, hosting the annual African American Read-In during Black History month, and more.
  • Veterans Place has hosted CLP for computer assistance sessions and fiction discussion for the enrichment and benefit of its residents. Program director Cathy Komorowski has also facilitated the placement and promotion of a Community Collection at the Veterans Place facility where residents and day-program participants can borrow high-quality books onsite. Because the Library welcomes everyone, and is considered to be a “safe space” for many homeless veterans in our community, a partnership between Veterans Place and CLP to bring the Library to them and encourage them to visit our locations was a natural fit.

We are unbelievably proud of the work represented here. These advocates and partners have shown in a multitude of ways their belief in libraries as a vital part of community life in Pittsburgh.  We sincerely thank them for all they have done to bolster the library’s mission and make a real difference in the lives of our friends and neighbors.



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Post-Katrina Fiction


Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and Eleventh Stack are celebrating Black History Month by highlighting books, music and movies by African American Artists. We also have a ton of great events and programs for children, teens and adults. You can view all of our Black History Month posts here.

More than 10 years after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and surrounding areas, it’s no wonder that we’re seeing the physical destruction,  human suffering and resulting complicated emotions reflected back to us through fictional lenses. Here’s a look at a few of the many post-Katrina titles worth your time.


A panel from Dark Rain by Mat Johnson

Dark Rain: A New Orleans Story – Mat Johnson

In this graphic novel, Dark Rain is not only an allusion to physical presence of the hurricane, but it’s also the name of a shady private security firm policing the citizens of New Orleans while simultaneously trying to capitalize on the mayhem. In a story where all the characters are trying to get a piece of the action, one character in particular has to decide what he’s willing to risk and what he’s trying to gain.


Quvenzhane Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beasts of the Southern Wild 

Ok, so this movie isn’t technically about hurricane Katrina, but it’s pretty hard to deny that Katrina helped to shape and influence the film.  With elements of magical realism, the plot centers on a young girl, her father and their surrounding bayou community dealing with a major flood and its aftermath. One of the lead actors, Dwight Henry, has said that living through Hurricane Katrina directly impacted his performance: “I was in Hurricane Katrina in neck-high water. I have an inside understanding for what this movie is about. I brought a passion to the part that an outside actor who had never seen a storm or been in a flood or faced losing everything could have.” With absolutely stellar performances by the two stars, (both novice actors), gorgeous cinematography and evocative storytelling, this one isn’t to be missed.

Salvage the Bones – Jesmyn Ward 

Fourteen year old Esch is pregnant, one of her brothers is attempting to keep pit bull pups alive, her dad is a hard-living alcoholic trying and failing to take care of it all, and, oh yeah, a massive hurricane is on it’s way.  You can feel the looming hurricane in the air as the book builds to its crescendo, yet we never forget that the hurricane isn’t the only, or even the biggest, obstacle these characters face. Life will go on, somehow. Ward brings this family and their struggle to life with poetry and humanity that you won’t soon forget.



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Body Positivity Reading List

Abbey’s recent post on Jes Baker’s new book, Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls: A Guide for Unapologetic Living, inspired me to write a longer post on body-positivity. I think that Baker’s book is great, but if I had a criticism, I’d say that the title is misleading. Body positivity is emphatically not just for girls and women, nor is it just for fat people.

Contrary to what you see in the media, we are not all supposed to look the same.

Contrary to what you see in the media, we are not all supposed to look the same.

Simply put, the body positivity movement is about feeling good about your body in a culture that constantly sends all of us messages about how we’re not good enough. Body positivity goes way beyond fat and thin; it’s about intersectionality — the ways that different aspects of our lives and identities intersect with our body image; it varies for everyone, but this might include race, disability, size, age, sexuality, gender presentation and more.

Again, I think Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls is a dynamic and accessible introduction to and exploration of the concept of body positivity, but as Baker herself points out, it’s far from the only book out there on this subject. Here’s a look at some additional options:

Children’s Books for Talking about Body Image

Disability and/or Health and Body Image

Gender and/or Sexuality and Body Image


Media and/or Advertising and Body Image

Race and Body Image


Art by Carol Rossetti – Click through for source.

This isn’t a fully comprehensive list, but it’s my hope that this is a good starting place for those interested in these topics. I also highly recommend spending some time with nontraditional  media; amazing things are happening in the body positive community online. Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls has a fantastic online resource list in an appendix, and  the #bodypositive, #bodypositivity, #medialiteracy and #effyourbeautystandards tags on Instagram and Tumblr are another good place to start.

Riots not diets,



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All Cakes Considered

Eat Cake for Breakfast

Good Advice.

Without the structure of an Official Project™, I’m liable to spend every evening sitting on the couch with my dogs reading comic books and feminist essays. So, I recently decided to put my money where my mouth is when it comes to my enjoyment of cooking and baking and commit to getting really good at it by making lots and lots of cake.

The inspiration? All Cakes Considered, a book by NPR staffer Melissa Gray about how she made a cake each week and brought it in for her co-workers to taste-test and enjoy. The book includes a year’s worth of weekly cake recipes, and all of the baking lessons Gray learned along the way.

I’m not as hardcore as Gray — I’m not going to make arrangements for my co-workers to have a substitute cake brought in when I don’t bake (sorry, guys) — but I have decided to make fifty cakes in one year, and, five cakes in, I’m already learning a lot. For example: bundt cakes can actually be ridiculously delicious, and it is truly worth it to spend the full minute beating the batter between adding each egg.

I love how this book is structured; rather than assuming you know it all already, Gray explains everything in detail, teaching you new skills and techniques as the book goes along.  It starts with simple, easy-to-master recipes like sour cream pound cake and cinnamon-almond coffee cake, and works up to more complicated fare. The book concludes with something equal parts astonishing and formidable, Stephen Pyle’s Heaven and Hell Cake, which Gray deems “The Liberace of Layer Cakes.”

I do really like All Cakes Considered, but I’m not planning on following along with it exactly. Here are a few of other books I plan to consult during the course of my 50 Cakes experiment:



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