Library closings take away culture from city

Credit: Maria Raffaele/Assistant Art Editor Credit: Maria Raffaele/Assistant Art Editor

Last Tuesday, the Carnegie Public Library of Pittsburgh voted on and announced the closing of four of its branches throughout the city.
Effective Feb. 3, 2010, the Beechview, West End, Hazelwood, and Lawrenceville branches will be closed to the public. Additionally, the Carrick and Knoxville branches will merge, fines and fees everywhere will increase, and the library board will implement other, more localized changes.

The seemingly sudden announcement to the public about the branch closings may demonstrate that even things we might consider immune from — or at least, isolated from — the economy are in fact at risk in these hard economic times. However, several members of the board explained to local news outlets that these changes were a long time in the works, possibly indicating that the economic recession may not be completely to blame for the weakening of the library system, but may rather have been the icing on the cake already baked with a number of problems.

While we in the Oakland community are safe — the Oakland branch is the largest and most notable of the Pittsburgh branches, and is supported by the close presence of Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh — the future of other neighborhoods is not so secure. Blighted neighborhoods like Hazelwood need whatever small elements of outside culture and education they have to stay in their community.

However, the changes to the Carnegie library system are quickly turning into food for political debates among those vying for office in the upcoming elections. For example, mayoral candidate Kevin Acklin has quickly admonished Mayor Luke Ravenstaal and the city of Pittsburgh for not contributing enough to the failing library system — the city currently gives $40,000 annually to the Carnegie Public Library of Pittsburgh — and has promised to increase that amount to $250,000 if elected.

Wild promises of an extra $200,000-plus — simply to win over voters early in the elections process — will not fix the system in the short term, and will not encourage outside donors to contribute before the four branches in question shut their doors in February.

We hope that the loud public outcry and protests that have erupted in the past week in reaction to the board’s announcement will be enough to turn the public library system around. While you still can, make sure that you visit the four branches that will be closing, or even just the Oakland branch next to Schenley Plaza. Experience the free culture that Pittsburgh has to offer before it’s too late for our shrinking city.