Kezia Ellison and Wallace Sapp in the new Manchester school library. (photo by Kelsey Shea)

by Kelsey Shea

Even after receiving book donations from around the world this fall, the volunteers and administrators behind the new school library at Manchester K-8 haven’t lost momentum.

The bright, cheery library is on the second floor of the building is freshly painted soft greens and yellows that match custom murals on the walls and plush reading spots on the floor. It has reading tables, computers, a world map, a flat screen TV and over 10,000 new or gently used children’s books on the shelves, and volunteers are reading to first graders as part of the new Manchester Reads program every week.

It’s hard to imagine that five months ago, the library room was unused, dirty, unorganized and all but without books.

“It was truly a miracle,” said Wallace Sapp, who volunteers at Manchester and helped organize the books make the new library possible.

But at the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year, Manchester K-8 was entering another year as one of the 10 PPS schools without library service.

Six months into the school year first graders are asking to take books home from the Manchester school library, thanks to several dedicated community members, nonprofits and a powerful social media post.

At the beginning of the school year, PPS introduced a new requirement that all schools have at least one day of library services as a part of an initiative to provide educational equity throughout the district.

Sheila May-Stein, a day to day sub hired to rehab school libraries, arrived at Manchester in September “horrified” to find the library room neglected, with dirty walls and empty shelves.

Though this was May-Stein’s second library rehab, she was shocked enough to post a picture and an “angry rant” on her Facebook that sparked a wave of support for the Northside school.

“That’s when the magic started to happen,” said May-Stein.

Her post caught the attention of local blogger Jessie Ramsey of Yinzercation, who reposted May-stein’s picture of the empty shelf and started a book drive. May-Stein then created an Amazon wish list full of popular children’s titles and tweeted at authors Neil Gaiman and Laurie Halse Anderson, who reposted her call for help.

Donations poured in from across the US, China, Australia and even Manchester England.

By October, Manchester had received 800 books donated through May-Stein’s Amazon wish list, and more than 10,000 gently used books that were donated locally.

A September story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette caught the attention of Educating Teens about HIV/AIDS Inc.  Kezia Ellison.

“She read the article in the paper and was at the door of Manchester two days later. She asked me what I wanted for the library– and I made her a list and drew her map. She left, and I thought nothing more of it,” said May-Stein.

Her list included new paint, blinds and carpeting, more bookshelves, a reading chair, new blinds, a SMART board, beanbag chairs, a wall-sized map of the world, a new circulation desk and more books.

Ellison came back and told May-Stein that she had recruited Sam’s Club to agree to rehabilitate the entire library according to her specifications.

Between labor and supplies, Ellison estimates that Sam’s Club put over $30,000 into the Manchester library.

Perola Furniture donated professional interior designers and a pale green wool author’s chair. Perola also found a local artist to paint the murals on the library walls.

“The Manchester Miracle Library went from prison block hell to professional designer-designed … heaven,” May-Stein wrote on her blog.

Ellison believes that the “Manchester Miracle,” which they’ve come to call the library project, could be a model for future public school library projects.

“It was a miracle–the Manchester Miracle, and I’m honored to have been a part of it,” said May-Stein.