Award-winning author of The Orchid Thief headlining campaign kickoff for transformation of Harrisburg’s McCormick Riverfront Library

$3.5 million expansion connects adjacent home of library’s founder and doubles space for children’s learning support, computer resources and more

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Susan Orlean, writer of The Orchid Thief which became the Academy Award-winning movie Adaptation is coming to Harrisburg on Saturday, May 8 to kick off the fundraising campaign for a historic expansion of the McCormick Riverfront Library.

Orlean’s latest bestseller The Library Book chronicles the 1986 fire that destroyed the Los Angeles Public Library. Significantly, it also tells the larger story of the importance of libraries to their communities and their vital role. This message dovetails with the Dauphin County Library System’s $3.5 million “Your Place To Belong” campaign to fund the expansion. (

The project includes connecting the library with the adjacent 5,458-square-foot residence of Sara Haldeman Haly, whose bequest in 1896 seeded the Dauphin County Library System. The expansion will offer more than 3,400 square feet for a family area that incorporates Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STREAM) learning support, additional community meeting space, added public computer resources, and more.

The public is invited to see Susan Orlean’s live stream from the Whitaker Center from 7-8 p.m. on Saturday, May 8!

• To register for this free event generously sponsored by M&T Bank, go to

• Hear her thoughts as NPR’s Scott Detrow talks to her about life, literature, and libraries. (This is a special live-stream and will not be rebroadcast.)

• As Author of the Year, The Library celebrated all of her books as part of the Susan Orlean Adult Program Series. View the entire 2020/2021 series at

“We’re excited about this once-in-a-lifetime project and are calling it ‘Your Place to Belong’ because libraries build communities and communities build libraries,” said Karen Cullings, The Library’s executive director. “Every day, people are using our computers to look for work or advance their education, and families depend on us to help their children succeed in school.”

As part of the project, The Library is paying particular attention to historic preservation and creating a welcoming environment for people of all races, backgrounds, abilities, and ethnicities.

“Downtown Harrisburg is changing in many positive ways. Still, 44 percent of its children are in households below the poverty level,” Cullings said. “The demand for our services has never been greater or more diverse.”

“M&T Bank is proud to support the historic expansion of McCormick Riverfront Library,” said Nora Habig, M&T Bank’s Central and Western Pennsylvania Regional President. “We are excited to be a part of the ‘Your Place to Belong’ campaign and look forward to the unveiling of the new library in Harrisburg.”

Recently, The Library received the honor of being asked to continue the Commonwealth Monument Project’s message of understanding and cultural diversity. As part of the McCormick expansion, the new central entry space will be called the “T. Morris Chester Welcome Center,” named for Chester, whose likeness is part of the monument.

Chester was a Black lawyer, correspondent, and soldier who led two African American regiments to defend a potential attack on Harrisburg during the Gettysburg campaign.

The Library continues to work with the Commonwealth Monument organizers on programs highlighting Harrisburg’s Old Eighth Ward, where the Capitol complex now stands. Additionally, The Library’s locations have set up “Knowledge Promotes Understanding” displays at all locations featuring books and information about social and racial justice.

“Above all, we want to make sure that all we do reflects the backgrounds and cultures of those in our community,” Cullings said. “The Library’s core mission is to promote understanding and equality through education.”

In 2019, Bates College’s Diverse Picture Book Finder named The Library in its list of the top five institutions serving 200,000 to 499,999 people with the most diverse children book collections.

The Library is also received guidance from an expert provided by the Historic Harrisburg Association on restoring the circa-1812 Haldeman Haly House’s windows. Plans also call for careful blending of the home’s classic features with the McCormick Riverfront Library.

This year, the Your Place to Belong project won the Premier Project Award in the “Growing Our Economy” category from the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission.

“In 1869, Sara Haldeman Haly donated the money and the land next to her house to build a public library for Harrisburg, which grew into today’s public library system,” Cullings said.

“This project brings Sara’s mission full circle,” she said. “It will allow us to preserve an important piece of our community’s history, grow children’s programming, allow greater digital access for many in our community, and expand a host of other services.”

Key points about The Library’s Your Place to Belong campaign to expand McCormick Riverfront Library:

• Recover and restore approximately 3,400 square feet of library space to the community as a children’s and family area that incorporates STREAM (Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Arts and Math) learning support.

Replace outdated ADA access to the library with two accessible entry points and make Haldeman Haly House ADA accessible.

Provide 796-square-feet of flexible community meeting and event space in a unique historical setting (Haldeman Haly House).

• Provide expanded first-floor library space for the community partnerships being developed as part of the library’s role as second responder, such as the existing partnership with Dauphin County Human Services and the proposed partnership with Adams & Associates, a Job Corps company.

• Provide outdoor recreational space in the rear courtyard, adaptable from parking to small event space.

• Restore, preserve, and repurpose two critical historical landmarks.

• Play a vital role in Harrisburg’s urban revitalization, helping to answer its need for early learning, STREAM learning, and job-seeking support as well as cultural enrichment.

About the Dauphin County Library System

Dauphin County Library System provides county residents with free access to countless materials, both current and ageless.

Online and at eight locations throughout Dauphin County, The Library offers books, movies, music, magazines, computer and internet access, people to help with research, and programs that support personal and community growth. MARCO — The Library’s state-of-the-art van exploration station — offers printed and online access to various locations such as senior and childcare centers, shelters, and community events.

To learn more about The Library, visit

Artist renderings and additional background material available at this Dropbox link:



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