Residents and politicians alike decried the announced cuts yesterday by the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, which will close five branches, move others and trim hours in the face of a spiraling deficit.
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl called for an independent audit of the library budget by the Regional Assets District board "so that we know how the money is being spent. A lot of people don't know what's happening at the library.
"The library was the only place where RAD didn't make any cuts," he said, referring to the district's preliminary budget that provides the library with the same $17.6 million it received this year.
"We have nothing to hide," said Barbara Mistick, library director and president. "RAD requires an audit from everybody and we've complied with every requirement."
Although library officials have threatened dire measures for months, residents and city leaders were stunned by the news.
State Rep. Chelsa Wagner, D-Brookline, whose district covers the Beechview neighborhood, blasted the board's decision to close the branch there.
"If allowed to stand, the board's decision will cut off invaluable services to children, seniors and job-seekers, and irreversibly harm the quality of life of thousands of city residents."
City Council President Doug Shields assailed the closing of the Hazelwood branch, which moved from its original and dilapidated location to a new building on Second Avenue in 2004. "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."
Even the Lawrenceville branch, the system's oldest that was opened in 1898 by Andrew Carnegie himself, was not protected from closure.
Its building is ornately decorated with brick, stonework, wrought iron and floor-to-ceiling oak windows, and was designated a historic landmark by the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation. It has enjoyed double-digit growth in recent years, with nearly 50,000 people -- many of whom walk from surrounding neighborhoods -- using it last year.
"It's going to be a hole for the neighborhood," said Joanne Ridge, 52, of East Liberty. "It's going to put people on the street instead of keeping them off the street."
Unlike wealthier neighborhoods where residents can afford to buy books, music and movies, Lawrenceville has many working-class residents who depend on the branch for those materials and can't necessarily reach East Liberty easily, said Laura Dabolish, 42.
"It needs to stay open," said Ms. Dabolish, who uses the Lawrenceville branch on her way home to Franklin Park from work in Shadyside. "It has to stay open."