Building Bridges: Whitehall Public Library | Best Small Library in America

Whitehall Public Library is one of the two finalists for LJ's Best Small Library in America. When social service agencies began to resettle refugees in Whitehall, in the Pittsburgh, PA, suburbs, the library started building bridges between refugees and long-term residents.

When social service agencies began to resettle refugees in Whitehall, in the Pittsburgh, PA, suburbs, the library started building bridges between refugees and long-term residents. These efforts, emblematic of the library's inclusive mission, are the reason Whitehall Public Library was selected as one of LJ's Best Small Library in America finalists. In 2017 the library partnered on a grant-funded Digital Storytelling Project, “Immigration Journeys: Old and New,” in which recent refugees and long-term residents created digital videos about their immigration experience. The results were shared by a diverse group of more than 200 who attended a celebration and facilitated group conversation.

In 2018 the library asked the Bhutanese Community Association of Pittsburgh to author an informational flier to answer questions about its community in their own words. The library also partnered with the association to plan a memorial vigil in response to last October’s shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue; more than 200 attended the vigil.

Working with Whitehall’s mayor, borough officials, and employees, the library hosted a welcome program for refugee homeowners last year, including the mayor, council members, city managers, first responders, the tax collector, and the code officer. The library has issued more than 300 new library cards to refugee patrons, and it employs summer interns from the refugee community.

This work pays dividends for the library and the whole community. In 2018 Director Paula Kelly was honored with the I Love My Librarian Award. And county groups who work with refugees recommended the library to the Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative as a host for its Ultimate Play Day.

Other playful programs include a partnership with the local PBS station, in which the library serves as a pilot for its Family Creative Learning initiative. The library’s cookbook club appeared on the Rachael Ray show, while the book and beer club meets at a local microbrew pub—and online, using a tablet and hot spot borrowed from the library. For all the roughly 14,000 members of its community, the Whitehall Public Library is truly a refuge.

Photos courtesy of Whitehall PL


About the Best Small Library in America Award

LJ’s annual award, relaunched with the support of sustaining sponsor ­Baker & Taylor (B&T), was originally created in 2005 to encourage and showcase the exemplary work of libraries serving populations under 25,000. The winning library will receive a cash prize of $5,000 from B&T; its representatives will be recognized at the Association for Rural & Small Libraries (ARSL) conference in Burlington, VT, thanks to support from ARSL. The finalists for LJ's Best Small Library in America, chosen from among a large and strong array of nominees, share a focus on innovative programs and collaborations to deliver exceptional service with limited resources.Two honorable mention institutions will each receive $1,000 prizes.

For guidelines for the 2020 nomination, visit

Author Image
Meredith Schwartz

Meredith Schwartz ( is Editor-in-Chief of Library Journal.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing