By Bridget Seelinger | the Duquesne Duke
Seven years ago, a pillar of the South Hills community was faced with a harsh reality.
The Mt. Lebanon Public Library faced the possibility of closing its doors if it did not figure out a way to come up with a substantial amount of money to continue its operations. For years, the state and county had supplemented most of the library’s funding, but that was to be no more. The library was on its own and the town of Mt. Lebanon didn’t have the budget to cover the expenses that the county and state were not covering.
For the past 10 years, an epidemic of library closures has swept across America as technology replaces paper books and children lose interest in reading. The economic crisis only made the issue worse, forcing local governments to make sacrifices, which often meant public libraries closing down.
In Mt. Lebanon, that was not going to be the case since three of the town’s most dedicated members came up with a unique way to raise funds for the library.
Three women – Mimi Ingalls, Petra Fey and Cindy Richey – put their heads together and formed “The Book Cellar.”
Traditionally, Mt. Lebanon had two annual used book sales that raised funds for the library. Ingalls, Fey and Richey thought that having a permanent used bookstore would be a more profitable way to raise the funds that the library needed. They named this bookstore The Book Cellar because it is located on the bottom floor of the Mt. Lebanon Public Library, which is still in operation today.
“It’s a wonderful social venture because it benefits the library, benefits the community, is a great recycling program,” Richey said. “People have made friends here, volunteering it’s just so beneficial to the community.”
The Book Cellar is staffed completely by volunteers, all of the inventory is donated and since it is housed on the bottom floor of the library, there are no overhead costs. Every book that is sold is a 100 percent profit for the library.
According to Richey, who is now the director of the library, every penny of the $80,000 per year profit benefits the library.
Not all of the inventory goes on the shelves, either. The library generously donates books to Appalachia, Haiti, and even down in Washington, PA, all places desperately in need of reading materials.
“This is the best thing that has happened to the library and the community,” Richey said.
The Book Cellar also sells books online on their Amazon site. If they receive a book that has significant value, they will put it up for sale to reach out to more potential buyers. One specific sale of a psychology encyclopedia brought in almost $600.
“Almost every single volunteer coordinator has been here since the beginning. We have a dedicated group [The Book Cellar] has helped bring people into the library and make them more aware of the library’s services,” Richey said.
Fiction and non-fiction books are typically priced at $2 and children’s books are typically as low as $0.50. The Book Cellar is open Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. A trip on the bus or trolley will be needed in order to reach the library from Duquesne, but it is well worth the trip for any students looking for a book store other than the one on campus.