Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

RAD awards $3.8 million to 5 libraries in underserved Allegheny County communities

The Braddock Library, a large stone structure.
Bill O'Driscoll
90.5 WESA
RAD awarded the Braddock Carnegie Library $1.25 million toward exterior and interior renovations.

The Allegheny Regional Asset District on Thursday awarded $3.8 million in grant funds to libraries serving some of the region’s most impoverished communities.

The funds were awarded to repair or upgrade libraries in Braddock, Homestead, McKeesport, and Swissvale, and to help Clairton’s library move to a new space.

“We’re so excited,” said Chari Lyons, library director of Carnegie Library of Homestead. She said the $500,000 the library received to make its historic building more accessible, and grow programming capacity, would also help it access a matching grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Kids in Carnegie Library of Homestead
Kate Giammarise
90.5 WESA
Kids play in the children's room of the Carnegie Library of Homestead, which received $500,000 from RAD.

The largest RAD grant, for $1.25 million, went to the Braddock Carnegie Library for exterior masonry repair and renovation of the vestibule in the building, which opened in 1889 as the first Carnegie Library in the nation. Executive director Victoria Vargo said the grant leaves the library with just $240,000 more to raise in a $19.7 million capital campaign that began in 2019 to fund a complete overhaul of the facility — its first major renovation in 40 years.

RAD also awarded the Carnegie Free Library of Swissvale $800,000 toward a major capital project to make the library fully accessible for the first time. The Carnegie Library of McKeesport was granted $750,000 as part of a phased renovation to turn its top floor from storage space to public space for community groups. And the Clairton Public Library received $500,000 to help with a new, purpose-built space on the ground floor of the newly-renovated Clairton Inn Apartments.

“We hope these grants will continue to motivate and inspire library directors serving patrons that rely on the vital resources inside the four walls of the library,” said RAD program officer Margaret Pike Iddings, in a statement. “It is our hope that, once completed, we will see these libraries boost the quality of life for their patrons individually and community collectively.”

The money will be the first round distributed from RAD’s Transformative Community Library Fund, a $5 million investment in libraries serving high-poverty communities, which the agency announced last year.

RAD, which is funded by the county’s 1% sales tax, is a major funder of Allegheny County’s 46 separate library systems — the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and 45 suburban systems — which have disparate levels of funding, physical spaces, staffing, programs and services.

WESA and PublicSource reported last year on the gulf in funding and needs of the dozens of separate library systems in Allegheny County. Libraries in low-income communities often have less funding, which translates to fewer programs, less staff and shorter hours.

RAD has also been pushing more libraries to share certain back-office functions as a cost-saving measure.

In addition to more funds from RAD, the Allegheny County Library Association has also shifted a formula twice in recent years to push more funds toward libraries serving poor communities.

You can find more information on the five initial grants here.

Kate Giammarise focuses her reporting on poverty, social services and affordable housing. Before joining WESA, she covered those topics for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for nearly five years; prior to that, she spent several years in the paper’s Harrisburg bureau covering the legislature, governor and state government. She can be reached at or 412-697-2953.
Bill is a long-time Pittsburgh-based journalist specializing in the arts and the environment. Previous to working at WESA, he spent 21 years at the weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, the last 14 as Arts & Entertainment editor. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and in 30-plus years as a journalist has freelanced for publications including In Pittsburgh, The Nation, E: The Environmental Magazine, American Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bill has earned numerous Golden Quill awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. He lives in the neighborhood of Manchester, and he once milked a goat. Email: