Shaler library director makes library ‘feel like home’

Monday, July 15, 2019 | 12:01 AM


Sharon McRae knows that a library career is about more than the books.

“People think you go into ‘libraryland’ because you love to read. Well, yeah, sure, but to me, it’s a people job,” said McRae, Shaler North Hills Library (SNHL) director.

After receiving her bachelor’s in history and political science from Westminster College, she started volunteering at the Wilkinsburg Public Library. Within about a month, head librarian Joel Minnigh hired her as a clerk and suggested that she pursue a library science career.

“I would like to think that he saw in me that I like to work with people,” McRae of McCandless said.

She followed his advice and, while holding jobs at the library and in retail, studied for her master’s in library and information science from the University of Pittsburgh.

“You want to help people, but you don’t necessarily want to sell them something like jewelry, although that was a lot of fun, too,” she said. “I think retail experience helped me a lot. And, you know, the encouragement from the folks at the Wilkinsburg library.”

Shortly after graduating, McRae, 49, accepted a position in 1998 as SNHL’s reference librarian, during which she witnessed patrons’ transition from relying on reference materials to the internet.

She channeled her graduate school lessons when using the internet for research and teaching computer courses.

“To be able to translate that into what you do at the desk at the public library, it was a neat time,” she said.

She also was around as the library became the first in Allegheny County to circulate DVDs and to adopt a self-checkout machine.

In 2005, she took over as library director, managing five full-time and 45 part-time employees and a crew of dedicated volunteers.

“This is an amazing group of people. They are very creative, very patron-obsessed. They love people, too. I think it shows.”

“As for Sharon’s impact on SNHL, she leads the library staff with such kindness and genuine concern. She is masterfully educated and very involved in the state-county-local partnerships, which she is always open to sharing with the library staff. She is very well respected and recognizable in our community area,” said Janice Watson, reference librarian.

“We’re up to about 110,000 attendees at programs last year. There’s nobody around, unless you’re talking about the Carnegie Library (of Pittsburgh), that does that kind of volume of participants at programs, both here at library, and out in the community,” McRae continued. She said that Shaler North Hills Library employees strive to reach patrons where they “live and work and pray,” who might not necessarily enter the library. Children’s librarians take summer reading programs to Shaler’s Crawford Swimming Pool and Etna Borough Pool. Similarly, the library has partnered with Shaler township for its Community Day, Fall Fest, Spring Fling and “Lite Up” Night events. Library staff take materials from the 130,000-item collection to senior centers and homebound patrons, too.

“We’re always trying to be responsive to what the community wants and what the community needs because it’s always changing.”

Meanwhile, McRae is responsible for library fundraisers, overseeing the Friends of the Library, which supports the library, securing grants and partnering with the township on facilities management.

“The library is the hub of this community, as well as other communities,” said David Shutter, president of the library board and Shaler board of commissioners “We knew that she was the person for the job. Her heart was there, and she has good leadership. She’s a caring person. Since she’s come to the library, it feels like home.”