Head of Allegheny Valley Community Library retires after 3 decades


Kathy Firestone has worked as a librarian for three decades and yet rarely has time to pick up a book.

That could change soon.

Firestone, from the township of Allegheny, is retiring on Saturday as executive director of Allegheny Valley Community Library at Harrison.

“I don’t have any plans,” she said. “I will go where the spirit takes me.”

Firestone will be replaced by Deputy Director Suzy Ruskin, a resident of Dormont.

After decades of managing the library’s $ 300,000 operating budget and over 2,000 client visits per month, Firestone has said she must make up her mind to retire.

“I have never regretted coming to work,” she said. “I always looked forward to the next day.”

A former English teacher in the Fox Chapel Area school district, Firestone took time off to raise a family. But when her son left for school, “I was right behind him,” she laughed. “I needed to be at work.

Firestone worked as a substitute teacher in the Leechburg area and Kiski area school districts before taking part-time employment as a clerk at the Peoples Library in New Kensington. It didn’t take long for her to become a youth librarian and fall in love with her new career.

It was a supervisor there that prompted Firestone to enroll in the University of Pittsburgh for his Masters in Library Science.

About a year later, she got the job at the Community Library, then located in an old three-story building along Sixth Avenue in Tarentum.

“Everything was different back then,” Firestone said. “We had card catalogs and no technology.

“The first piece of technology we received was a refurbished fax machine, and we thought that was great. “

At the same time, the Allegheny County Library Association was born. In 1993, the Allegheny County Regional Asset District (RAD) and its 1% sales tax was established, providing core funding to libraries.

Firestone spent the next six years campaigning in multiple states to raise $ 1.2 million for a new library site just off Freeport Road in Harrison.

“I spent 24/7 with this project,” she said from the community room at this library, which opened in 1998.

When construction finally peaked at the intersection of Montana Avenue and Broadview Boulevard, directly across from the former Blessed Sacrament Parish, Michele Ridge, the then governor’s wife, attended the dedication . Tom Ridge and a librarian who had run the Erie County system.

Unfortunately, Firestone couldn’t be there.

“It was the same day as my mother’s funeral,” Firestone said. “All those years of work and I must have missed it.”

Library board member Cindy Homburg said Firestone has left an indelible mark on literacy efforts in the region.

“She’s done a lot to bring the library up to date with technology and other programs,” Homburg said. “Plus, it’s nice to work with her. She has an amazing way of her that people love.

Library use increases despite population loss

Since the opening of the Harrison site 23 years ago, attendance has increased despite the loss of population in its coverage area.

The library serves Brackenridge, Tarentum, Harrison, Fawn, East Deer and Frazer. It contains more than 75,000 books, CDs, films and other articles that people can consult on the spot. Other items can be ordered from member libraries across the county.

Likewise, library programs have mushroomed for all ages and interests to include storytelling hours, quilting shows, book clubs, STEM classes, knitting, genealogy, and lessons on life. health insurance for the elderly.

Prior to the library opening, the Natrona Heights section of Harrison was only served by an occasional county bookmobile.

For more than two decades, library staff maintained both branches until the Taranto site became a financial drain. It closed in 2019, just before the covid pandemic forced operations to close.

“It was traumatic,” Firestone said. “Closing a library, to a librarian, tears you apart. It wasn’t widely used, but a lot of people depended on it.

Firestone is still hoping to see other options open up for lending books to Tarentum and Brackenridge.

“Every municipality does not need to have a library building, but there must be access to books,” she said.

Harrison’s installation, which Firestone says started out as a pipe dream, has now become the lifeblood of the community.

“The community has been very generous. We’ve been on our nerves so many times and something always happens, ”she said. “Seeing him become an integral part of the region is what I’m most proud of. “

Tawnya Panizzi is a writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Tawnya at 724-226-7726, [email protected] or via Twitter .