August 10, 2010 |

Carnegie Library asks residents what they want in a library

Knoxville wants a library within

safe walking distance for children

A meeting to solicit feedback on the merging of the Carrick and Knoxville branches of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh into a new facility drew about 35 people to the Knoxville branch took place on August 5.

"Most of our funding is shrinking," said Mary Frances Cooper, deputy director of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, of the need to merge.

Thanks to a capital campaign which raised $57 million to build new libraries, she said, there is money for a new local library. A new library in East Liberty opened that week.

The question for the Hilltop, she said, is "can we provide a great library here?"

She has been talking to local officials about the issue, including city council members Natalia Rudiak and Bruce Kraus; state senators Wayne Fontana and Jay Costa; and state representatives Harry Readshaw and Jake Wheatley.

She also made presentations before local groups such as the Hilltop Economic Development Corporation, Upper Knoxville Block Watch, Mount Oliver Borough Council, Bon Air Civic Association, Overbrook Community Council, Hilltop Alliance, and Carrick Community Council.

Seeing as no property has been secured for the new building, residents were asked to make suggestions and add their input to the acquisition process.

Among the chief concerns expressed by residents, she said, is ensuring that the new building is within safe walking distance for children, and that there is adequate parking.

There is also concern about the future of the library buildings once they are vacated.

To a question of whether there is money to build new buildings but none to operate them, Ms. Cooper said yes. Legally, money raised in a capital campaign can only be used for the buildings or the money is taken away.

Mr. Kraus, who was in attendance, said the challenge is to find ways to keep the operating money coming into the library system.

He also said he would be heading a bus tour in two days of the new library on Federal Street.

"It's pretty magnificent," he said of the facility.

Mary Monaghan, assistant director of Neighborhood Libraries, asked attendees, "What do you like about this place?"

The responses included: the staff, "which makes you feel welcome;" the variety of activities and materials, such as computers, and other resources for children; programs for youngsters; book club; wireless network; celebration to promote books; the unique architecture; good resource center with newspapers and magazines; safe place; the feeling of "I belong here;" and, that children can come there after school.

To what attendees would change, they responded: parents using the library as a babysitting service; a wider selection of books, music, DVDs, especially for teens; addition of air conditioning; handicap accessibility; too much noise pollution from Brownsville Road; not an attractive building from the outside; needs free parking spots; expand hours of operation, especially Friday evenings and after 5 p.m.; and add paintings to the blank walls.

Branch manager Suzy Waldo said Knoxville and Carrick libraries are about one-and-a-quarter mile apart, or 14 blocks.

When attendees were asked to mark a map of where they would like the new library building to be within the 14 blocks, most marked the area near the current Knoxville branch.

To a question of how big a building library officials are interested in, Ms. Cooper said from 10,000- to 12,000 sq. ft. The Knoxville branch is currently 9,000 sq. ft.

To a question if expanding the current building is an option, she said it would be if that was the issue. Instead, the issue is combining two branches into one.

Ms. Cooper concluded by saying the library system will be hosting community conversations on the issue on Sept. 18-20.

Mr. Kraus concluded by saying "change is always difficult," and hoped everyone would keep an open mind.

He said as a boy, the Zone 3 police station was across from his home, and its familiarity became part of his childhood. When it was recently relocated to East Warrington Ave., it was difficult for him.

"But ultimately I had to let it go," he said.

After the meeting, attendee Jason Kottler, of Mt. Oliver, said he walks to the Knoxville Library to borrow books as he likes the selection.

He said he would prefer to keep both branches, but if a move is made, he wants an easily accessible site.

Janice Taylor, of Arlington, walks to the Knoxville branch about twice a week with her grandchildren. While she likes the DVDs and magazines the best, her grandchildren mostly use the computers.

If the new building is too far, she will have to take a bus and pay fares for herself and the grandchildren, which would become costly.

Vida Snow, of Knoxville, who lives across the street from the library, said she has frequented the facility since she was five years old.

She and her mother stop in once or twice a week. Ms. Snow likes the selection of craft and cookbooks, and the DVDs.

"I really wish it would just stay where it is," she said.

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