The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is a cultural jewel. It provides unparalleled access to the richest, broadest, deepest collection of materials serving the blind, deaf, the young, old and in-between. It offers MP-3 players for reluctant readers loaded with books for them to listen to as they read, computer access for those who stand on the other side of the digital divide, historical, legal and genealogical resources, homework help, help with resumes and job hunts, and a deeply underpaid and overworked staff who passionately advocate for literacy, first amendment rights and Pittsburgh citizens daily. Libraries serve schools with additional resources that limited school libraries don’t have by offering teacher accounts. They also offer interlibrary loan service from all over the state to get you what you need. My list of what libraries do is far from complete, but it is the staff that deserves special mention.
Before the Squirrel Hill branch of Carnegie Library was renovated, and when my children were small, I would make weekly trips to the children’s department with a hand-held shopping cart. I would describe the books my children loved, and Susan Hughes, then the manager of the children’s section, would simply go to the shelves, fill up my cart, and I’d be on my way. On the weekends we’d go through the stacks of Susan’s recommendations and without fail — my kids would spend their Shabbats devouring her choices. Her encyclopedic knowledge of children’s books and passion for finding the right one for the right child helped my children become lifelong readers. I’m indebted to her for life, as are my kids.
My daughter Sarah was so inspired by Susan and the positive impact she made on her life that she devoted her bat mitzva project to the Squirrel Hill branch of the library. Sarah was outraged that the library was going to have to shut its doors on Sundays because of budget shortfalls — she knew that this would disproportionately affect the Orthodox Jewish community, who find a beautiful, warm and welcoming place to gather and enjoy books after Shabbat. And we are far from Orthodox.
As more and more school librarians are cut from public school budgets, children need public libraries all the more. Teachers will, too. Has Schachter considered the impact public library services have on underserved children who don’t have computers or books at home? Doesn’t the Torah demand that we do what we can to help the needy in our communities? Isn’t a few dollars more worth it to keep Pittsburgh children safe, warm, reading and engaged in learning...?