Strauss: Vote ‘yes’ in Nov. 8 library referendum

Courtney Strauss | November 3, 2011    

Not voting to fund  the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is about as heartless as ripping out the… Not voting to fund  the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is about as heartless as ripping out the last chapter in every Nancy Drew novel on the shelves, so I have confidence that Nov. 8  will end in a celebration at the library’s Oakland hub.

Then again, I had similar confidence in voter turnout for last year’s elections, especially when free donuts and coffee were distributed along Posvar Hall voting lines. Unfortunately, I was let down. So for the love of John Steinbeck, DVDs, Internet access, Cosmo magazines and cookbooks, please vote “yes” this Tuesday.

In case you haven’t heard, voter ballots next week will feature a referendum on whether to approve a 0.25 mills special tax on Pittsburgh real estate. The tax would charge property owners $2.09 per month for every $100,000 of calculated property value they possess. This money will go toward operating and maintaining the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

The library receives most of its annual operating revenue from the Allegheny Regional Asset District and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. However, state sources of funding have been declining for years, while the cost of providing necessary services has risen. Thus, additional sources are required.

Although you might have noticed some renovations to the library’s Oakland hub, nine branch locations — some of which lack ADA accessibility — are still in need of improvement. More troubling, the Library operates with the “lowest staffing levels and lowest compensation and staffing cost structure among libraries of its size,” according to the CLP’s 2010 report.

For Pitt students, the advantages of the Carnegie Library are numerous. First and foremost, we’re allowed to rent books we would otherwise have to buy — either because they’re not available at the University, because other students nabbed them first or because they’re non-circulating. This is hardly a negligible service. According to a recent Carnegie Mellon study, if CLP customers had to purchase the books they borrowed, the collective cost would amount to $27 million per year. If customers had to pay $3 to rent the DVDs and videos they borrow, the collective cost would total $2 million per year.

The library’s benefits extend beyond rentals. According to the same study, the CLP generates a return of more than $91 million in combined economic output and customer value. Allegheny County receives $75 worth of benefits for each resident.

Of course, we all know that the Carnegie Library promotes literacy and contributes to the community. What often goes unappreciated are its computers, which the library’s fact sheet says provided 391,000 hours of free access last year. This service is vital for Pittsburgh residents who don’t have the Internet, or sometimes even computers, to maintain email accounts, search for jobs and conduct online research, among other things.

The library’s other advantages are even less appreciated. If you want to try a free yoga session or sign-language class, need a Sondheim musical score or want to get your hands on the new Call of Duty, then the Carnegie Library is your destination. The second floor windows in the Oakland branch overlook the dinosaur exhibit in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. There is a beautiful outdoor seating area across from the magazine section, and the international poetry room is the epitome of a classic university study room — and my favorite place to write a paper (the Carnegie Library, unlike Club Hillman, features plenty of quiet study spaces).

If you’re not yet convinced that the Carnegie Library system is essential, consider this: Libraries are one of the few remaining institutions in our increasingly fragmented communities that emphasize the value of “sharing.”  We visit them throughout childhood and our adult lives, enjoying books that countless others have enjoyed before. Please keep this cycle alive by voting “yes” to the library-funding referendum on Nov. 8.

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