Preserving The Carnegie Tradition

Opinion from the Pittsburgh Gazette:

You already know that Pittsburgh holds a rich history of the public library, but let's review the distinctions (lest we take them for granted):

• Pittsburgh boasts America's first Carnegie Free Library charter (Allegheny), whereas Braddock beat Allegheny to erecting the first Carnegie library building.

• Pittsburgh claims the first library designed with stacks for open-access browsing (Lawrenceville), the first Carnegie branch library (Lawrenceville), and the first Carnegie branch library system (City of Pittsburgh).

• Pittsburgh was on the forefront of children's librarianship with the first fully organized children's department (Main), the first pre-designed children's room in a library building (Lawrenceville), the first story time (West End), and the first training program for children's librarians (Main).

Andrew Carnegie wasn't born here but he learned the power of the library here when he began his legendary self-education in the private library of Colonel James Anderson. Hill District-born playwright August Wilson learned the power of the library here, too; his life changed forever when he walked into Carnegie's Hazelwood branch with a basketball under his arm and discovered a small "Negro section" of books. He went on to systematically design his own high school curriculum, studying for the next four years at the Main library in Oakland. In a 1999 speech about literacy and libraries, Wilson emphasized: "That shelf of books gave me ... the proof that it was possible to be a writer."

With such a tradition of library firsts and inspiring patrons in Pittsburgh, why not continue as the forerunners of the next wave, as libraries add digital resources and new library buildings go green -- without losing the best of the neighborhood resources and patron attention we already enjoy?

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