Remarks by Louise Sturgess at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Public Forum
Monday, December 14, 2009
Carnegie Library Lecture Hall, Oakland
Two-minute remarks presented by Louise Sturgess, Executive Director
Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation
During the Great Depression, the hours of all Carnegie branch libraries were extended and no branch libraries were closed. That fact can inspire all of us in our efforts to keep the Carnegie branch libraries open and funded. That shows how important the branch libraries were then to Pittsburghers and to individual neighborhoods. And, their importance has not diminished over time. Pittsburgh’s branch libraries are essential educational and community centers, adding, in many cases, to main-street activity that community development groups and citizens are working hard to protect and promote.
Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation encourages the Carnegie Library Board and staff to see the historic branch library buildings as assets, rather than liabilities, and to re-focus and concentrate resources on keeping the existing buildings open and bringing them into compliance with accessibility codes and modern HVAC standards. We are not in favor of using funds to construct new library facilities, or move existing branches into alternate spaces, or commission studies from groups removed from the communities.
Just as the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum used a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to fund a nationwide design competition showing how 2 historic buildings could be combined with new construction to create an award-winning 21st-century museum, the Carnegie Libraries of Pittsburgh could apply for an NEA grant so design professionals could prepare a comprehensive plan for renovating the historic branch libraries.
Such a design process would be of interest to communities nationwide since Carnegie Libraries elsewhere are being closed due to renovation needs and lack of funds. Just as Pittsburgh led the nation in designing a branch library system between 1898 and 1903, why not lead the nation in renovating the architecturally significant buildings that continue to serve their neighborhoods today?
Remember too that Pittsburgh has been designated a Preserve America Community. The City can apply for federal funds for projects that:
- “protect and celebrate . . . heritage;
- use . . . historic assets for . . . community revitalization; and
- encourage people to experience and appreciate local historic resources through education . . .”
- According to the guidelines, successful applicants “. . . serve as models to communities nationwide. . .”
As an organization, Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation has written about the significance of the Carnegie branch libraries, successfully nominated them as City Historic Structures, held educational programs inside them, and showed them off during Main Street Walking Tours. We have been consistently working with the Library staff and board to ensure that what has been given to Pittsburgh and its citizens is cared for responsibly.
We are in favor of keeping the libraries open, and keeping them where they are. We would support the efforts of the Library and City to raise funds for needed improvements and renovations so Pittsburgh’s branch library system can serve, once again, as a model for the nation.