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Editorial: Libraries are fundamental / The Carnegie system seeks to expand its offerings

Friday, July 27, 2001

Libraries, for as long as any of us can remember, have been treasured places in our communities. Playwright August Wilson is only one of the authors who discovered reading -- and writing -- at a local library. Libraries also serve as convenient places for citizens to meet, exchange ideas and plan strategies -- a new town square, if you will.

To ensure that it can continue to thrive to serve new generations of readers, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has launched a $76 million capital campaign to update facilities and services in its 19-branch system.

To reach its goal, the library will seek state and federal funds and private donations from individuals and foundations. It also will seek to reallocate part of its Allegheny Regional Asset District annual funding from operational costs to long-term financing.

Some might question the wisdom of raising funds to support the libraries at a time when many Americans get their information from the Internet via their home computers.

But for many children, and many adults, computers will remain unaffordable luxuries. Libraries offer a way to bridge the digital divide. Indeed, part of the Carnegie Library's improvement campaign involves building separate areas for computer users and computer training.

Moreover, many people, regardless of their resources, prefer visiting libraries and laying hands (and eyes) on paper. And for good reason. Computers have yet to offer competition for the tangible pleasure of picking up a book.

The numbers tell the story. A national survey of Post-Gazette Benchmark Cities shows that the average number of users at new or renovated library facilities has gone up about 40 percent. Clearly, if communities build -- and improve -- libraries, readers will come.

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