Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Library Trustees: No Books For You!

Sorry Lawrenceville, Beechview, West End, Hazelwood and Knoxville-or-Carrick. Your libraries are plagued with lethal asbestos don't attract enough patrons to stay open anymore.

"We needed to move quickly with these drastic decisions," said Jacqui Lazo, board chair. "The library system was designed for a city twice the size of Pittsburgh today. We have more branches per capita than any other system our size." (P-G, Bob Hoover)

Lots to nitpick. The system was designed for a city twice the population of Pittsburgh today -- the city has remained exactly the same size however. Utilizing the library system will become much more difficult than at any point in its past, especially considering public transit has only worsened.

Also, did we only just discover this $1.2 million projected budget deficit? Has the board also been "doing its homework" in going after grants and stimulus dollars? Green libraries, anyone? I don't understand the need for self-described drastic quickness.

Finally, was it wise to have only recently converted a few of our public libraries into flashy and exotic digital spaceships? Is the Forbes and Murray branch going to be regarded as the Colfax Annex of the library system? I wouldn't want to be discovered in Squirrel Hill when the revolution comes.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl called for an independent audit of the library budget by the Regional Assets District board "so that we know how the money is being spent. A lot of people don't know what's happening at the library. (P-G, Hoover and Schaarsmith)

If it turns out we are getting ripped off by corrupt fat cat librarians, that will really be surprising.

The latter article has reactions from Doug Shields and Chelsa Wagner, but here are some snippets from press releases that didn't find their way into the papers:

Natalia Rudiak: These decisions were not simply made in a two hour meeting—they have been deliberated over a long period of time—and it’s inexcusable that our City and State has not been proactive in dealing with this issue before such a devastating announcement. The City has been contributing the same $40,000 to the libraries every year since 1895, and State Republicans are pushing for steep cuts of 38% to overall library spending...

...I support District 4’s current City Councilman in his vow to identify more funding to allow the reversal of the board of trustee’s decision.

Kevin Acklin: Over the last several weeks, I’ve attended rallies at our city's libraries, made direct appeals to the Carnegie Library Board, and announced proposals that would help fund the Carnegie Library System and keep some of its branches from closing. This afternoon, Mr. Ravenstahl held a press conference — his first public statement on the library closings — and essentially told the people of Pittsburgh, "The libraries are closing, there is nothing I can do about it."

Dok Harris: These are tough times in Pittsburgh and around the country. These are times for belt tightening and smart investment. But closing libraries is not belt tightening; it’s the equivalent of chopping of limbs. Working families do not have the luxury of coming into Oakland to go the library; they are already overburdened, juggling work, child care, and other responsibilities. They need resources IN their communities.

That our Mayor has remained silent on this issue serves as just one more indicator that he doesn’t care about our neighborhoods. The Mayor will bend over backwards to accommodate campaign donors, but cannot be bothered to address the pressing issues of neighborhood violence, economic stagnation, closing libraries, and crumbling communities.


  1. I agree with Mayor Ravenstahl, do an audit of the library system and make the results public.

    This didn't just happen last week. In 2004, in Lawrenceville, we circulated "Save our Library" petitions. Doesn't seem to have done much good.

    Is there a way to reorganize the RAD's commitments? Right now it's giving $13 million/yr. to PNC Park & Heinz Field. It's giving slightly more to the libraries.
    Yearly attendance at the library's 19 branches is more than the oombined attendance at Pirates & Steelers' games, (which are held in only 2 venues & for which significant $$ is charged for tickets.)

    Pittsburghers ARE contributing more than the city's outright $40K towards the library via our taxes that wind up in RAD's coffers.

  2. City Council should be ashamed of themselves for continually only giving $40,000 per year.

  3. The only reason city council members aren't too ashamed to leave the house is that they can look in the mirror at say "At least I'm not in the state legislature" for thirty minutes each morning.

  4. The city is broke Matt. There is little leadership and people like you just rubber stamp the status quo year after year. WTF do you expect?

  5. MH - How do you account for folks like Dan Deasy and Jim Ferlo then?

  6. I'm sure that Ferlo and Deasy are among the few in the legislature who don't need to have a butler to remind them that at least they don't represent a district in New Jersey.

  7. Let me guess - its Ravenstahl's fault! He didn't _____ fill in the blank. Perhaps it is someone else's fault...It is always someone's FAULT with you people. Maybe, just maybe the Library doesn't have enough money. Maybe, like everyone other entity in the entire world right now they don't have enough money to keep the same structure alive that existed decades ago. Maybe the cost structure is too high. Could you imagine the headlines and posts on this blog though if the Library cut wages for librarians? Could you imagine if the library didn't have to pay prevailing wage on every new structure they build? Could you imagine if the SEIU had its way and forced them to hand out community benefits and union jobs for everyone else? Now, perhaps Mistick construction has some fat contracts with the library as well.....

  8. Well, Anon 10:25, since this exploded on the GENERAL general public all in one day, and five branches in hard-luck neighborhoods all closed at once, then yes, you can certainly say Ravenstahl wasn't on top of things. Wasn't pro-active. Which is what you're really looking for, in a Mayor. It's not like two years in to it, the economic downturn was suddenly a surprise.

    Then again, it doesn't sound like anybody else was on top of it either. Chalk it up to human nature.

    To me, what sticks in my craw is the priorities. Are you telling me we don't kick around figures like $1.2 million like it's nothing, any time there's a minor emergency, on other ventures? PRIVATE ventures? Again, that's not just Luke but it's not something I like to reflect on. If rebellion against Luke is causing people to reevaluate their priorities vis a vis the general community and private development, then I'm happy to have that opportunity.

    And by the way ... AGAIN with the SEIU? What is your problem with unions? What is your problem with service workers unions? What is your problem with negotiation?

  9. Anon 10:25 I am tired of hearing from Yarone on these posts.

    Someone dropped the ball yes. Has the library system sent out material in the last two years attempting to request donations yes!

    Guess what? Low Income people, families who cannot afford a computer, cannot afford college text books use the Library system to help aide their children to be able to keep up, to compete in a technologically advanced society, that , if not available they will fall behind.

    Interesting, Beechview comes up again, Knoxville, Carrick with no disrespect towards Lawrenceville, but someone better recognize what has gone on in the lack of representatioin in the South Hills, for the last at least 10 years. You pushed alot of low income people our way, and you didn't address their needs. Figure it out!

  10. I have a suggestion for the Anons. If you comment frequently, it wouldn't hurt to use a name. You can use a fake name. You could call yourself 'Stacy' even if you're a guy. It just makes it easier to have a discussion that somebody can follow.

  11. It is correct that the City government doesn't actually run the library system, right? So just how pro-active are mayors and council members supposed to be on this issue?

    People, we just shut down a whole bunch of schools in this city - because there aren't as many students. Catholic schools have gone through the same downsizing (even more drastic, actuallly). Same principle works for the libraries. It's a shame, but that's what happens when you lose population. Besides, we'll still have something like 15 libraries in the city even after these are shut down.

  12. Anon 12:42 - Not YZ. I was guessing maybe RobStephany actually, just freelancing off his turf. But it could be anybody.

    In re what you point out about the South Hills: Did you notice Council nominee Rudiak's dig at "the State"? Sure she rounded it off later wit something bad about "State Republicans", but at the same time you've gotta wonder about Chelsa Wagner's pro-activeness.

    State Rep. Chelsa Wagner, D-Brookline, whose district covers the Beechview neighborhood, blasted the board's decision to close the branch there.

    "If allowed to stand, the board's decision will cut off invaluable services to children, seniors and job-seekers, and irreversibly harm the quality of life of thousands of city residents."

    Personally, I was hoping to see some municipal pensions fireworks out of C-Wag. Missed that too.

  13. Henry - Ah, but neighborhoods like their libraries. And who can blame them? Many of them lack orderly institutions, let alone outposts of learning. Maybe if we had time to plan ahead, apply for one more grant, or else scale them all down a bit at the same time ... these things are important.

    What's wrong with being a national leader in libraries per-capita? Could having been so have led, in an odd way, to hosting the G20 for example? I think it's a certainty.

  14. Not odd; t'was.

    Peruse the PG forum on this matter.
    Evidently, there's a rampant problem w/ gender based compensation, executive incompetence/graft, superfluous snazz. Anybody smell an EEOC cause finding here?

    Isn't it Mistick's JOB to find the money in an event like this? Call upon the regions's affluents to pitch in? Work Emily's List? Take out a loan?

    Regardless of fault, Luke was clearly out of this loop. Too many G20 parties, new Homeland Security toys to try out, etc. I have no problem holding him accountable for this come November. That way we can save all that G20 budget overage for DAN!

  15. Who can blame Ravenstahl. Let's face it, I cannot imagine he has spent much time in any library. Book learnin' is really not his thing.

  16. Go back to the mid 1980's when RAD was born. The same issues then as now - suburbanites who claim to be Pittsburghers every time they travel outside of the county, refuse to step up and pay for anything tied to the city. Hence the RAD tax - it helped save the Zoo, the Aviary, Phipps and it helped for a long time to save the Libraries of the City. The problem is that libraries also exist in the suburbs, and hence, no real regional effort to save the city branches. I would argue that Barbara Mistick and the Library Board have worked hard to bring in new revenue (it seems I get solicitations on a monthly basis) but it's a tough road. I would argue also that the Pittsburgh Promise $$$ would have been much better spent shoring up those neighborhood libraries . . . with adequate preparation those students who genuinely NEED financial aid, would get it from sources other than UPMC. I guess the other question is "has Luke ever been in a Carnegie Library?"

  17. Wouls this be Luke's responce?
    I don't know where in Carnegie that the library is located. Besides, where is Carnegie?

  18. Food for thought…
    Carrick and Knoxville libraries are in the hilltop. The Knoxville branch is right smack in the middle of Mount Oliver boro, all of which are included in the 15210 zip code. Not only do they serve Carrick and Knoxville, but also Mount Oliver boro, Mount Oliver City, Bon Air, Allentown, Arlington, etc. Last count that is apx 30,000 residents
    The Carrick and Knoxville branches are less then 1.5 miles apart on Brownsville Rd, a merger seems possible but there really is not viable real estate between the two to house a new branch. Closing one and combining into the other will drasticilly change the attendance and hurt the other community. Also something not mentioned, there is a Brentwood branch another mile and a half up the road from the Carrick branch. Sure people can walk or ride the bus but this is really counterproductive in the rebuilding of the hilltop.

  19. We know the city gives the Carnegie Library $40,000/yr., in addition to more of our citizens' taxes, via RAD.

    How much does the County give to Pgh's Library system? Last I looked, as a city resident I also pay County taxes...

  20. I'm old... read books. Purchase books..

    Young Blog and twitter about losing Libraries.

    Closing of Libraries is indicative of times...

    How many of you have Library Cards and use them...

    Do survey and see what age group can read...

    (30 to 80 year olds)


  21. Henry, Schools are closing yes, and the city has lost population, however, you must look at the areas, in particular, that the closures may occur. Remember why they were donated by Andrew Carnegie in the first place? I would have agreed that libraries began to see a decline, if they only offered books to read. That is not the case anymore.

    Libraries offer much more than reading books nowadays. They act more as access to a neighborhood central knowledge center, accessible to all. Doesn't matter if you are poor or affluent. You don't have to own a car to get there, or own a computer. You don't have to have a weekly subscription to the daily news. You don't have to pay for internet access, you don't have to have a DVD or cd player. Those things are accessible to your children, keeping them competitive while the parents attempt to pay the rent or mortgage,provide healthcare and put food on the table.

  22. Unless the trustees of the Library system are lying to us, the closures have a lot to do with use. Busy libraries are staying open, less busy libraries are set to close.

    I read O'Neill's column today; aside from his usual anti-Ravenstahl slant (it's all Luke's fault, as usual), he mentions how a truly walkable city must have more libraries. We have 88 distinct neighborhoods in the City, but less than 20 libraries even if you keep these open. Should we open 60+ more libraries? Of course not. That would be silly.

    BTW, why no hue and cry for Bruce Kraus' head on this: he is a library trustee, unlike Ravenstahl. Based on his quote in the PG, it sounds like he supports this. Hilltop libraries set to close while South Side's stays open? That can't be popular...

  23. I am not blaming anyone, and if Kraus is a library trustee, then yes I would like him to address this issue.

    I hope that the closings are based on usage but it seems to me that a few neighborhoods are being hit, and hit hard at a time when these same neighborhoods, the citizens, are struggling.

  24. Henry said this: "Unless the trustees of the Library system are lying to us, the closures have a lot to do with use. Busy libraries are staying open, less busy libraries are set to close."

    I wouldn't put it like that. The closures have everything to do with the system running out of $$$. That could be attributable to anything from lack of foresight, to lack of imagination, to a real lack of realistic options, but "low rates of use" is merely the metric by which the board elected WHICH libraries, which neighborhoods, paid the piper. They might have used other metrics, they might have pursued other strategies. So you can congratulate the board for frankness and honesty while still taking issue with its performance or what have you.

    Bruce Kraus? In my book there is no hue and cry because he has built up a HELL of a lot of political goodwill. But considering the depth of feeling out there, yes, I would imagine he'll be addressing the issue further.

  25. BTW, why no hue and cry for Bruce Kraus' head on this: he is a library trustee, unlike Ravenstahl. Based on his quote in the PG, it sounds like he supports this. Hilltop libraries set to close while South Side's stays open? That can't be popular...

    As you know Henry, Bruce Kraus has little to do with the closings.

    Busy libraries are staying open, less busy libraries are set to close.

    Don't try to spin this around. We operate under a strong mayor form of government here in Pittsburgh. Pointing your finger at Kraus is not a solid argument.

  26. Point fingers at all trustees of the library. That is solid, logical and honest.

  27. In New Zealand, a nation that is much more literate than us, sadly, BTW, there are fees associated with the library use. Video / DVD rentals at the library.

    We knew there were problems with the RAD when huge chunks of money went to the stadiums and convention center.

    Furthermore, we knew that there were serious problems with the Pgh Carnegie Lib System too with ex-dir hires and the moving and expected closing of branches, especially Hazelwood.

    Most, but not all, might have been caught off guard.

  28. I'm surprised that no one is focusing on the percentage of branches closing--26%

    Imagine the outrage if 26% of PAT bus routes were cut, or 26% of city streets, or 26% of schools, etc.

    This is huge, but since it has to do with book learnin' and not the Steelers or driving or gambling, it's sort of OK.

  29. Problem with libraries;

    very rarely does the HUDDLER need a library; (perhaps the huddler would not be a lowly ditch digger if he spent more time in the library?)

    But - it seems everytime the HUDDLER goes to a "neighborhood" library it is closed !!

    The HUDDLER would like to see longer hours at the bigger, renovated branches.

    And IF there are neighborhoods that lose branches; bring in book mobiles, bring them to senior centers, churches, community centers; keep the story times and other learning programs in the neighborhoods one way or the other.

    Lease the library buildings to the community groups for use.(a buck a month) Place computers in these senior centers, and community centers to "ORDER" books from the library system, as well as printing resumes, job searches,filing 311 complaints, ect.

    How about mini libraries in every senior center and community center?

    When the budget is broke; it is time to think outside the box !!

    Imagine a "COMMUNITY CENTER" where one can:

    Find a book, DVD, or CD.
    use a computer with internet and printing ability
    meet with elected officials or representatives
    have senior programs
    have after school programs
    hunger programs
    help finding jobs; doing resumes
    access to social services?
    organize community events and groups; block watch, little league, clean up days, food drives?

    the list goes on;
    these libraries for the most part are well maitained. We should not be mothballing them.

    find the funds to operate the buildings and reinvent the services they provide and how they are staffed.

    Suburban libraries are expanding. BIG TIME.

    We need to re-evaluate the library system; it is antiquated. Libraries should be turned into community resource centers; with everyone involved;
    We need the City, County, Pittsburgh school district, community groups, non profits, human services, social services, labor and industry and other groups to have programs and resources IN THE COMMUNITIES.

    Communities- neighborhoods will continue to crumble if we pull out the remaining public entities like libraries, community centers, senior centers, and post offices.

    One more rant; why have senior centers? The HUDDLER knows that Seniors vote... Why not turn these into COMMUNITY CENTERS with the same programs for seniors and senior only hours?

    Do we have to wait to get a AARP card before we can get a community center?

    Our seniors are a cherished asset. Get seniors involved with younger people and vice versa. Bring the community together.

    The HUDDLER apologizes in advance for rambling and a half assed post. Just a little frustrated and too much caffeine !!

  30. A couple of questions:

    Didn't CLP just collect $53 million in its capital campaign?

    Is this really a "panic button" strategy to get the extra $2 million of its $55 million goal, as Heyl suggests? If not -- hasn't the board ever heard of a RESERVE FUND? Why was none of that money set aside for emergencies rather than new stuff? Or was it set aside, and was the reserve fund blown straight through?

    Now, getting past all of that -- we were cursed with these libraries when Andrew Carnegie decided to purchase the land, build the buildings, buy some of the materials and gift it all to the city. Ditto the museums. MAYBE IT'S TIME FOR THE NEXT CENTURY OF TITANIC PITTSBURGHERS TO STEP UP TO THE PLATE? Would anyone be offended if we had to visit the new "Romoff / Carnegie Library" branch in Lawrenceville, for example? There's got to be a way to juice up the philanthropic appeal, the name "Carnegie" and "Carnegie Libraries" is just too distinguished. Could we stop offering banquets and tote bags, and start offering shares of Andrew Carnegie's legacy in perpetuity?

  31. The Carnegie Legacy should live on...I read 'Andrew Carnegie' by David Nasaw.

    Funny thing is... if memory serves, when I praised him on this blog as hero, I was ridiculed as Republican (?)

    I own aforementioned book, as I own following:


    'Faith Of Our Fathers' by Sen. McCain is a surprisingly good read. Lot to be learned from his confinement...some applies to ordeal of divorce.

    'American Creation' by Pulitzer Prize author a bit dryer. Debate between Madison and Henry on creation of Constitution....preparation prevails over fiery oration only is audience is equally prepared.

    Believe country is on wrong I said in Court in spirit of Franklin: objective is control of our lives from cradle to grave.


    Books are only lifeline to freedom, knowledge is liberty.


  32. Just checked out my lieberry...

    And I wander, what is my favorite book..?

    Good stuff...Einstein gazing at me.

    ...and as such,

    I is the book yet unread...


  33. We the people (of Lawrenceville) are holding a Storytime Rally in support of our branch, tomorrow, Sat. Oct. 10 at 11 a.m.

    The story can't end here, our kids need more to read, so we're writing the next chapter.

    Our branch is at 279 Fisk Street in L'ville. Everyone's welcome to join us.