Readers take to the streets to save libraries
By Julia Cowher
Ron Baraff and his children intend to take their message of the importance of neighborhood Carnegie Libraries to the streets.
“We’re trying to do…a city-wide protest and pick one day that across the board that you boycott your library and at the same time read to your kids on the street in front of the library to show what it means,” said Baraff, a member of Pretty Up Beechview. “These kids need somewhere to go, if you close their library that’s where they’re going to be–on the streets.”
The members of Pittsburgh communities are joining together to implement unconventional, grassroots efforts to save their respective neighborhood Carnegie libraries from closing. Beechview, Hazelwood, Lawrenceville, and other neighborhoods are participating rallies, letter writing campaigns, community meetings, and other methods to send a collective message; libraries are essential to every community.
“Livable cities need vibrant neighborhoods,” said Tess McShane, of Point Breeze, who frequents the Beechview, Homewood, and Lawrenceville libraries with her children. “And when you take away amenities that breathe life into neighborhoods–like libraries, schools, pools–you are slowly taking the life out of those communities and eventually they will wither and die.”
The efforts being made by Pretty Up Beechview, the Hazelwood Initiative, and Save Our Pittsburgh Libraries are getting the attention of both the Carnegie Library and elected officials.
“Going to city council, writing letters to the editor, talking to the mayor, and writing their elected officials has made a huge impact on the library,” said Suzanne Thinnes, Carnegie Library Communications Manager. “I know it made a huge impact with our state funding this year. It was about 100 days overdue, the state budget, we were threatened to be cut 50 percent so even though we were cut about 30 percent it still wasn’t as bad as it could be. So people did make a difference”
There are several projects in the works as a part of Pretty Up Beechview’s plan to save their library. The children of Pretty Up Beechview are attempting to raise money with their hot chocolate stand that takes place every Saturday morning outside of the library.
In addition to the hot chocolate stand, there has been a letter writing campaign at
the two elementary schools in Beechview that has already yielded a few hundred letters that are set to be used as a larger message.
“We’re pulling together and on November 11th we’re going to be staging a protest at the Carnegie Library in Oakland using these letters, so we’ll be using art as a statement,” said Baraff. “The kids will be there because really it isn’t about me and it’s not about my wife; I have a car I could go elsewhere. These kids can’t go anywhere else, senior citizens can’t go anywhere else; this is their opportunity to say this library means the world to me.”
The Hazelwood Initiative is also working to save their neighborhood library.
“With the assistance of various stakeholders, we have started a Save the Library Campaign which entails researching the issues, getting the real facts, organizing and educating volunteers, letter writing, attending rallies, contacting the media, arranging tours, and acting as spokesperson for the community,” Jim Richter, of the Hazelwood Initiative and a Hazelwood Library patron for the past nine years.
Aside from community organizations, individual patrons are taking action to save the libraries.
“I have created a petition at petitiononline.com/CLP123, started the Facebook group Save Our Pittsburgh Libraries, attended meetings with city leaders, attended community rallies, and spread the word via reporters and bloggers,” said McShane in regard to her efforts to prevent the libraries from closing. “I plan to use my voice and the power of the internet to spread my message far and wide.”
The message being spread of the importance of these neighborhood libraries is undeniable to their patrons.
“Our branch serves senior citizens and long time residents, as well as many new home owners who are just starting families,” said Gloria Forouzan, a patron of the Lawrenceville branch for 12 years. “It is also a resource allowing low income children access to the internet…with the economic downturn, many young professionals are dropping home internet providers and using the library.”
Despite the optimism and collective efforts being made to save the libraries, there is still fear that several communities may still lose their libraries and continue their decline.
“As we have lost most of our assets, a middle school, two elementary schools, pool and recreational center, and grocery, we have little left,” said Richter in regard to Hazelwood. “The library provides access to learning; computers for research and job search; story hours for children to get them interested in reading; a place to complete schoolwork; a safe place. It is also very important because learning, literacy, research are stepping stones to financial success. If you take away poor folks’ ability to gain knowledge or you make it difficult for them to gain access, you essentially doom them to continue their life of poverty.”