Carnegie Libraries: Glenn A. Walsh
National Preservation Telephone: 412-561-7876
Conference 2006 Electronic Mail: < email@example.com >
Internet Web Site: < http://www.andrewcarnegie.cc >
2006 November 3
Obstacles to Historic Preservation:
Grassroots Efforts to Preserve Carnegie Libraries
Good afternoon. My name is Glenn A. Walsh and I have been involved in historic preservation for a little more than a decade. I want to welcome you to the birthplace of the Carnegie Libraries movement, and both ironically and regrettably, also the city where the original Carnegie Libraries are now at great risk. Oh, it is likely that the original Carnegie Library buildings will still exist. However, these buildings’ use truly as Carnegie Libraries is quickly disappearing.
Why? The primary obstacles to
historic preservation in
Due to the necessity of public funding for public libraries, politicians get involved and often support this change. Such change allows the politicians to display to the electorate that their tax dollars are being used to help the public, even if the result is a generic library structure and design due to the limited funds available. And, such change is often touted as “economic development”– the buzz-words of the late 20th and early 21st centuries–to justify the higher costs of constructing a new structure.
After the collapse of the
steel industry in
So, the politicians have continued looking for any way to bring jobs and revitalization to the city. Most recently, they, and other civic leaders, have decided that relocation of public libraries may help revitialize neighborhoods. However, they ignore the fact that if a library is relocated from an historic structure, the historic structure becomes empty and unused.
This is what happened in the
inner city neighborhood of Hazelwood, which had been the home of a major steel
mill of the Jones and Laughlin Steel Company. To promote economic development
on the neighborhood’s main business street,
Carnegie Library officials agreed to this new library site, stating the historic building was not well visible in the neighborhood, being a couple blocks off of Second Avenue, even though it had been there for more than a hundred years and most people in this well-established neighborhood knew where it was. At a Board meeting of the Allegheny Regional Asset District, which manages funding of county libraries, the-then Carnegie Library Director promised the board members that he would consult with the neighborhood, at a neighborhood meeting, before making a final decision to move the library. At the neighborhood meeting, attended by more than 75 neighborhood residents, the Library Director told the crowd that the decision had already been made and the Library would be moved.
After that announcement, the crowd became quite upset. Despite the fact that it was rather obvious that the majority of Hazelwood residents opposed the Library move, the Library decision did not change. And, the Library boasted that one of the neighborhood’s three community organizations, the Hazelwood Initiative, supported the move.
Carnegie Library said that they would work with the Hazelwood Initiative for a reuse of the historic Library building. However, today the Hazelwood Library building, with its 250-seat auditorium, continues to sit empty and unused.
Then there are the consultants, architects, and contractors—most of them very politically-connected to local government officials—who pick-up the publicly-funded contracts to make the desired change a reality.
These are the obstacles to historic
Consequently, in just the
last few months, it was announced that
The possible closing of
This distribution formula has
also affected the Andrew Carnegie Free Library in
I am cautiously optimistic that the Regional Asset District Board will not approve a formula that results in any library closures. However, I fear that many of the inequities in the current formula will continue.
The first publicly-funded Carnegie Library in the
On August 31, The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh announced their intention to abandon this historic library building in favor of building a new library building three blocks away. A Carnegie Library news release stated that, what is now known as the Allegheny Regional Branch Library “does not currently meet the needs of a modern neighborhood library.” This is despite the fact that this Library building was designed by the architectural firm of Smithmeyer and Pelz, which had designed the Library of Congress in 1889—and, the fact that the Allegheny Regional Branch had gone through an complete rehabilitation, from-top-to-bottom, in the 1970s.