‘Your Place to Belong’ campaign co-chairs 

A capital campaign becomes more than a fundraiser when its goal is transforming an entire community.

That’s the vision of reimagination behind the Dauphin County Library System’s Your Place to Belong campaign. The drive, well on its way to its $3.5 million goal, is attracting donors intrigued by the idea of connecting the historic McCormick Riverfront Library and Haldeman Haly House to create an accessible hub for gathering, sharing, and enlightenment.

“We are trying very, very hard to develop rapport and relationships with donors based on the function of the buildings,” says Susan L. Anthony, secretary of The Library board of directors and campaign co-chair. “This is about the use within the buildings, the dedicated space, the location of each area, and how that can be valuable related to fulfilling community needs.”

Through reconfiguration of the buildings, the community will gain dynamic children’s STREAM learning support (science, technology, reading, engineering, art, and math), plus unique community space.

The project will provide resources for exploring the legacy of Harrisburg native and pioneering African American Civil War journalist T. Morris Chester. Additionally, access to computers and social services will be expanded to help bridge the digital divide and connect residents in need with available support.

“We knew we needed to return the space to some of its splendor, and I do believe that environment impacts attitude,” says campaign co-chair Andrew Enders, the board’s immediate past president. “We view a public library as a great equalizer. It’s one of the last remaining places where we don’t care about your history or your profession. Whether you have a $7 million home or no home at all, we welcome you into our space. Everyone deserves to have a comfortable, safe space in which to exist.”

Why did you agree to lead this project?

Enders: Around January 2019, as chair of the board, I challenged the board to identify places and invest in the system to ensure that it was strong and stable well into the future. Serendipitously, our neighbor approached us about selling the Haldeman Haly building. Our board had the vision that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It was a way for the library to make a very clear statement that cities are important, McCormick Riverfront Library is our flagship, and Harrisburg deserves an exemplary library. We want our library to be talked about in the same vein as other projects around the country.

Anthony: It kind of exploded my mind that the next-door building has truly important historical significance, and then finding out it was the home of Governor [John Andrew] Shulze, who was a proponent of free compulsory education, and then learning that this house was lived in by Sara Haldeman Haly, who gave a bequest and her garden as the lot for building the McCormick Riverfront Library. I was saying, “We must buy this building. This is kismet. This is manna from heaven.” It’s a natural progression that I would not have expected, and it’s a great wonderment to me.

How does this project contribute to revitalization of the City of Harrisburg?

Anthony: The residential market in the city is more active than it’s been in 100 years. There’s a surge in employment and a general desire of people to see a small urban area such as ours and say, ‘We might like to live there.’ This is The Library becoming a center for all sorts of activities – people coming to programs, coming to events, coming to performances, bringing their children to programs. We want to be part of the action that is already going on.

Enders: Look at how our downtown community is a living object. If you consider the number of new inhabitants and this great influx by so many businesses and individuals that have this vision of making Harrisburg more residential, what’s something that everyone can use or will use in some way? It’s a public library.

Why is The Library vital to you and the community?

Anthony: You are welcome here, and what you are welcome to is – everything at no cost. I believe that in order to sustain life, you need to feed the body, but you also need to feed the mind. The pursuit of knowledge is part and parcel of our being, and libraries are the most exciting and relevant places around, fully equipped to take us on that journey. 

Enders: The Dauphin County Library System has a long history. We’ve celebrated many milestone anniversaries. For me, this is one blip on that timeline. We have a lot of story left to tell. We believe that this project will remind many in our community that libraries are vibrant places and that we are woven into fabric of the Harrisburg community. We are absolutely open to everyone.