Issues and Answers

Issues and Answers

This page presents the arguments being made in support of moving the library along with the counter points which answer them.   If you have any questions, comments, or points that you would like to ask or make pertinent to the issues involved, please use the contact form so that we can include them here.   Thank you.

The move to Federal street is essential to the sucess of the real estate speculation effort to "upscale" Federal Street and the neighborhood.   The future of the neighborhood depends upon it.

Of all the arguments offered in support of the move, this comes closest to having some basis, but only partially and not positively so.   The real estate speculation project has had underwhelming performance, that is true.   Also, in an effort to prop it up, moving the library would import the traffic which the library draws.   But, reopening the library in its historic building can do even more to revitalize the neighborhood than moving it, and moving it will foreclose any hopes of ever reopening Ohio Street and Federal Street down to it in our lifetimes, setting back the historic preservation efforts which are the core of the neighborhoods' vitality today.

Furthermore, the concept of the Cultural District in Downtown is to keep cultural destinations close together as an attraction for people to come there.   With the library next to the theater and the Children's Museum, the central North Side has its own compact cultural distination that can better attract people than spreading it out.   It is better to build upon a strong core than to dilute it.

The bigger problem threatening the neighborhoods is with the homeless who are being herded into the central North Side by police as a matter of public policy.   The policy is to treat the central North Side as a sanctuary zone in which the police turn a blind eye to homeless encampments and behavior not tolerated anywhere else in the city.   Moving the library will do nothing to change this.   With the homeless sleeping on the streets and in the park, the perception of the area being blighted will persist even if the library would have the newest looking architecture in the entire county.   Being seen as blighted not only frightens off new investment, it invites the time honored practice of blockwide demolition that is still followed by the URA.   This is inviting the loss of even more of the history which is the basis of the neighborhoods' current level of vitality.   See this article on the role history plays and how it is being undermined.

The historic library building is too large.

It can always be sectioned off to utilize a smaller space for the library within it.

The historic library building is too costly to heat and air condition and the Carnegie Library can't afford to do the energy upgrade.

While the operating costs that are quoted seem questionable, one thing is clear.   They haven't done anything to determine how much it would actually cost the Library to do an energy upgrade.   The City of Pittsburgh already uses programs which will upgrade its buildings at no cost to the City and the Kresge Foundation has a grant program to cover the cost of energy upgrades for nonprofits such as the library.   If Pittsburgh is the green engineering capital, then if we canít do it, nobody can.

The historic library building is not easily accessible by car; the new location will be more accessible.

This is true, but that is only if the Federal Street project continues to supplant the previous priority of reopening Ohio Street and Federal Street down to it.   The only impeding issue with reopening the streets is funding.   (The utility work that would be needed is routinely done on streets throughout the city.)   The funding will only be made available if there is a pressing need.   Keeping the library there provides the strongest impetus for getting Federal and Ohio Streets reopened.

The proposal to reopen the streets was moving forward but stalled as the focus shifted to upscaling Federal Street to displace the businesses serving the people who live there and the residents themselves.   Now as the upscaling effort has underperformed, the solution given is to further set back any chance of reopening the streets.   With a will to reopen the streets inspired by the library remaining in its historic building, the streets could be reopened in a couple years.   However, it will be impossible in our lifetimes if the library moves and takes the impetus to do so away.

The historic library building is not handicapped accessible.

The library is handicapped accessible through the ground floor where there is an elevator to the library level. See the next item about adding access to the third floor community room.

The historic library buildingís third floor community room is not handicapped accessible.

The library's existing elevator can be easily extended to the third floor to provide handicapped access.   It is a hydraulic elevator as is commonly used in buildings up to five stories high.   The mechanical room for it is located on the ground floor rather than above it as with cable elevators used in tall buildings.   Therefore, the existing elevator shaft can easily be extended up through the floor on the third level.   It would be but a few feet to the third level community room entrance.

The new building is needed to provide for the new information technologies.

There are no special architectural needs for the new information technologies.   At the right are the computers in the new Hazelwood library which is being held up as an example of what the library management wants to give to the North Side.   The downtown branch similarly puts their computers on standard tables in a regular space.   There is nothing fancy needed.

The computer facilities of some libraries may have keyboard drawers, but that is a matter of furniture.   In the past, some libraries constructed a false floor a few inches above the original floor to make it easy to run wiring, but that is unnecessary with wireless networking.

Old buildings can easily provide for modern information technologies.   For example, the computer lab in the County Law Library is state of the art and has its electrical wiring down one side of the room with one end of the table rows against that wall and an aisle along the other end.   It is efficient and perfectly functional without needing anything more modern than electrical outlets.

The new building will draw more traffic than the old building.

Not necessarily true.   A new building brings people to see what it is like, but with modest improvements such as reopening Ohio and Federal Streets and extending the elevator to the third floor, the historic library can increase its useage.   The history of the original building in itself helps draw a number of visitors.   Since the new library would be smaller, it can not easily expand to provide more services if its usage does increase.

Doug Shields claims moving the Hazelwood Library was completely successful and that the dire predictions made by opponents of that move have not come true.   He says children's usage is up 85% above its pre-move numbers.

The dire prediction that the historic building would not be reused has indeed come true!   The Carnegie Library management said they would help the City come up with an alternative use for the building, but all they did was turn it over to the City after their one year obligation to maintain it expired.   Now the City has complete responsibility for the expense of maintaining it, and its 250 seat lecture hall can't be used, even for special purposes, unless the rest of the building is being used.

Even as relates to other predictions, the Hazelwood example is not being fully disclosed.   One reason given for moving that library to Second Avenue was that the original location is a drug infested area.   But the Second Avenue location has been a worse drug area and since the move there have been shootings, stabbings, and murders next door, across the street, and in the vicinity of the new library.   The "delicatessen" downstairs sells beer by the six pack as its primary business.   The store keeper next door (across a side street) keeps a .357 magnum pistol for protection.

A year or so before the library moved, the librarian was replaced with a business manager who canceled the community and childrenís programming.   Attendance plummeted.   After the library moved, extensive programming was added, the majority appearing to be for children.   It could as easily have been reinstated at the old location, but it wasnít.   The Squirrel Hill branch was also closed for renovations when the Hazelwood branch opened its new location and it was one of the substitute libraries used by Squirrel Hill patrons, very likely being responsible for some of the bump in usage.   These factors can easily account for the increase in usership being cited.

The historic building can be used for a visitors center and by the community groups.

The Library is leaving it to Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation to come up with an alternative use for the historic building.   The only use currently being pursued by PHLF is for the Library to continue using the second floor for storage and move the rare books collection there.   This would drastically reduce other possible uses and would likely not warrant extending the elevator to the third level community room, at least not as much as reopening the library as a library would.

As far as alternative uses, the library is set up to be used as a library.   It would cost the City of Pittsburgh more to transform the building into other uses than to reuse it as a library.   If the old building is too inefficient and too expensive for the library to operate, it will be equally inefficient and expensive for any other uses.

Some people expect to use the historic building for community groups.   Unfortunately, the City is in the equivalent of municipal bankruptcy and cannot pay to subsidize neighborhood groups with free or below market rate space.

All the alternative uses being mentioned are lower traffic and lower value than the library.   If the library moves, it will remove the primary impetus to reopen Federal and Ohio Streets, maaking it more likely the streets will not be reopened in our lifetimes.

The library board has said it will not reopen the library in the historic building under any circumstances and will leave the North Side without any library if they canít build the new library.

The library management said similar things about needing to buy the library buildings for $100 each from the City if they were going to be able to restore or renovate any of the libraries (they were also to get free and marketable title, meaning they could as easily sell the building to a real estate speculator the next day, and they had said the wanted to get of a half dozen of their historic buildings).   It was a bluff and was safely called.

The same is true about the Allegheny Regional Library.   Several citizens of the North Side have appealed to the Allegheny Regional Assets District board to pressure the library to provide the services for which the residents are paying.   If the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh will still not provide services, the citizens can form their own association and apply to the RAD board for the share of the funding that was being used for the Allegheny Branch.   It would require special dispensation from the RAD board, but the appeal itself would be an embarrassment which the library management should want to avoid.