By now, all of Hazelwood should be abuzz over the closing of the Carnegie Library Hazelwood Branch—and for thatmatter parts of Greenfield, Squirrel Hill, Hays and Lincoln Place too. People should be incensed over this decision to strip one of Greater Hazelwood’sremaining assets. To quote John Tokarski in a letter to the Post Gazette editor, “…the residents and businesses of Hazelwood have seen a declining investment in their community’s infrastructure, its amenities and economic development.”
How can this happen, when just a few years ago the library moved into a brand new building on Second Avenue? New furniture, state of the art computers, and additional staff accompanied themove. The building is secure and has elevator access. These improvements resulted in increased use by folks from inside and outside the community.
And now we are on the chopping block as the Carnegie Library must deal with a projected $1.2 million deficit unless they close Hazelwood and three other branches (Beechview, West End, and Lawrenceville), merge the Knoxville and Carrick branches, and reduce hours at the remaining branches. That amounts to a little more than 5 percent of the library’s 2009 operating budget of $23.3 million. All told, 30 people will loose their jobs. City Council President Doug Shields assailed the closing of the Hazelwood branch. “This decision may seem to make fiscal sense to the board who doesn’t live here, but is an inconceivable loss to this neighborhood. The library is at the heart of what community amenities remain in Hazelwood.”
Some action by the Carnegie Library was expected, but ones this severe are very hard to absorb in communities like Hazelwood where the residents are continually faced with financial hardship. In the current economic state, hard-hit neighborhoods like Hazelwood can not afford to lose one of its most important resources. Libraries are more than shelves of books and periodicals, card catalogues and the Dewey Decimal Classification. Libraries provide greatly needed economic resources. They connect peopleto job and other opportunities. They are crucial in ensuring that anyone who does not have a home computer and internet access can get needed information on line. Libraries also act as an extension of school where students can do research, finish homework, and expand their intellectual horizons. And ibraries often serve as a place where students who don’t function well in the classroom can thrive. Take for example Hazelwood’s own August Wilson, who often chose the Hazelwood Library over Glasdstone High School. Ironic, isn’t it?