Closing the books: What would shuttered libraries become? - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
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Closing the books: What would shuttered libraries become?

Historic: Don't touch!

The Carnegie libraries in Hazelwood, Lawrenceville, Mt. Washington and the West End are listed as city designated historic structures, meaning whatever becomes of the buildings, nothing can happen to their exteriors without petitioning the city for consent.

"The building is a historic city structure, and anything that would happen to the building would have to go through the Historic Review Commission," said Katherine Molnar, historic preservation planner with the city.

Said Al Tannler, historical collections director with the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, "They cannot make any exterior changes. ... They can't change the doorknob."

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By Doug Andiorio
Friday, November 13, 2009

Michele Cunko fears the worst for the Carnegie Library on Grandview Avenue in Mt. Washington.

"I haven't gone that far yet to imagine what else could be here, but we fear that condos are going to be behind and all around it," said Cunko, a Mt. Washington resident and library patron.

Facing budget deficits, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh announced plans to close four branches in Hazelwood, Lawrenceville, Beechview and the West End merge branches in Carrick and Knoxville, and move the Mt. Washington library from Grandview to Virginia Avenue. It also would close the Allegheny Depository in the North Side.

With the exception of the Hazelwood branch, the city owns the buildings that would close, and they would revert to the city's control, Carnegie President and Director Barbara Mistick said.

Elected officials have said they would like the libraries to remain open.

"We haven't put much thought into what to do with the buildings (if they close)," Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said. "We are only thinking about saving them at this point."

The system has closed only two library buildings before in the Hill District in early 2006 and Hazelwood in 2004. Both moved to new locations, library spokeswoman Suzanne Thinnes said.

A few months after the Carnegie shuttered the Hill District library, the Martin Luther King Jr. Cultural Center secured a lease through the city and reopened the Martin Luther King Jr. Reading Center, cultural center Treasurer Yvonne Addison said.

The reading center had been in the library, and the Carnegie system donated books, Addison said.

The old Hazelwood building has enjoyed no such rebirth. Still owned by the city, it was one of the original Carnegie libraries built in 1900 and features a 250-seat auditorium and stained-glass dome above the circulation desk.

"It has been closed for four or five years, and the city hasn't done anything with it," said Glenn Walsh, an amateur library historian from Mt. Lebanon. "They will do the same things with the other ones turn them over to the city and let it be the city's problem."

Thinnes said: "Unfortunately, when Andrew Carnegie gave the gift of the libraries, he built the buildings but he did not endow our services. He said that libraries were a gift to the public, but the public needed to sustain them."

Should the Beechview branch close, the residents can't run the library on their own, said Ron Baraff, a member of Pretty Up Beechview, a community group.

"We are not looking to be outside the system but rather to work to improve the system," he said.

The Mt. Washington Community Development Corp. plans to meet Thursday to discuss taking a position on the proposed library relocation, said Chris Beichner, the group's executive director.

"A lot of thought still needs to (be) put into" what to do with the Grandview Avenue building if the library moves, he said.

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