Turning a Page on Carnegie

Article excerpt

Sorry, Mr. Carnegie, Pittsburgh can't afford your gift anymore. This may be a first in the annals of philanthropy.

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh announced a painful hit the other day.

It will shut down four neighborhood branches in 2010 and merge two others. That's something like a third of the total, though not the busiest.

Thirty jobs will disappear. Systemwide hours will shrink 28 percent. And all, of course, to save on costs. Government keeps getting admonished to cut, cut. Well, here it is.

Yet as trends are running, another budget squeeze looms the year after next.

This is bad in so many ways, including (it's not too far a stretch to say) for business. We will be less of a community that reads. It is a dumbing down in job readiness.

With all the influences that turn the minds of young people to mush nowadays -- too much television, computer games, ear-blasting music -- Pittsburgh will have fewer places to borrow books. Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) wouldn't approve.

The immigrant boy who became the world's greatest steelmaster credited his rise, certainly his start, to literature freely loaned from the shelves of a generous neighbor. Decades later he donated 2,400 libraries, but with a shrewd Scotch condition. He'd give the buildings, the communities had to stock the stacks. And keep them circulating.

That's what today's Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh can't seem to manage as in the past. It hopes to save $1.6 million, and balance a $22 million 2010 budget, by closing branches in Beechview, West End, Hazelwood and Lawrenceville, combining Carrick and Knoxville, taking other cuts, and raising fines and fees. …