Monday, August 17, 2009

Carnegie's Legacy

After Andrew Carnegie funded his first United States library in Braddock, he went on to fund 1,689 other libraries across the nation. While he may have favored the Pittsburgh region, Carnegie's generosity covered the globe from here to Fiji.

In addition to 19 libraries, Carnegie also built spectacular museums in Pittsburgh. However, he did not invest the money to sustain these great cultural institutions forever. He wanted the city to fund their day-to-day responsibilities. Today, RAD (that pesky extra 1% sales tax in Allegheny County) funds 70% of Carnegie library operations. The rest is funded by state and federal government alongside generous modern-day donors.

Maybe Carnegie's greatest legacy to Pittsburgh is not the buildings he left behind, but the responsibility to continue paying for those buildings and maintaining them. There are few Natural History museums, library systems, or arts institutions that can rival ours. In spite of population loss and economic downturn, our citizens have continued to pay for these places through sales tax and donations. None of us would dare let Mr Carnegie down.

Once again, the Carnegie libraries are facing financial issues. Do they close libraries, cancel or limit services, or find new ways of making money? Time will tell, but I'm pretty sure our community will manage to step up and lend a hand to those who depend on the library:
Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh will inspire in the citizens of our region respect and responsibility for life-long learning, citizenship, and civic participation.
Let's all do our part to help them follow through on their vision.

Yesterday, on a blazingly hot day in Pittsburgh, I visited the air-conditioned Carnegie Museum of Art. I ooh-ed and aah-ed at the artwork of Van Gogh, Teenie Harris, and Kara Walker. Thanks to Carnegie for starting this vision and thanks to Pittsburgh for continuing to follow through.

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