Sunday Forum: The importance of libraries

U.S. Steel Chairman JOHN SURMA and United Steelworkers President LEO GERARD call for continued support of Carnegie's libraries

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In Andrew Carnegie's day, the leaders of management and labor were rarely in accord. But the value of education and free access to knowledge was never a point of debate.

John Surma is the chairman and CEO of U.S. Steel Corp. ( Leo Gerard is the international president of United Steelworkers ( They are co-chairs of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh's Libraries for LIFE (

As successors to Andrew Carnegie's vision, we know that a library promotes literacy and learning, and also stabilizes and strengthens our community. Pittsburgh is one of the greatest places in the country to live, and our library system helps to make it that way.

Every day more than 6,000 people walk through the doors of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. More people visit the library each year than go to Steelers games or Pirates games. And even more people -- some 6 million a year -- use the library's Web site as an information resource.

The late playwright August Wilson spent hours in Pittsburgh's libraries reading the works of the masters before him, dreaming of the day when he would see his own books on the shelf ready to inspire the next budding author. He credited the library for changing his life.

Walk into any Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh location and you will see how libraries educate, enrich lives and engage in the business of solving real-life problems.

You'll find librarians guiding customers to information that will help them to find a job, start a business or trace their family trees. You'll find teens learning to use video cameras and online media to support a worthy cause. You'll find children settling into a cozy pillow with a picture book. You'll find researchers combing through books, online catalogs, digital archives and electronic databases. You'll find quiet places to read and study, but you'll also hear music, chatter and laughter.

Libraries are essential to our region's economic competitiveness, our neighborhood vitality and our future. The library is a valuable partner with school and community organizations in developing literacy skills at an early age. Literacy is linked to basic job skills -- skills that help our region stay competitive in both management and labor. The free public library provides a place where people can explore new cultures through books, music and video. It provides access to the infinite world of the Internet. It opens the door for civic discourse, as people learn to share ideas, opinions and values. The library is a place where people can come to be themselves or to become something else. Libraries change lives.

More than 100 years ago, Andrew Carnegie envisioned that his libraries would bring books and information to all people. Today, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh remains true to that vision. But while Carnegie provided the capital to build the library, he did not endow its operations. He expected the community to financially support such an essential resource.

Even as our community acknowledges how vital libraries are, libraries struggle to keep their doors open. One of the greatest challenges our libraries face is to meet the needs of a 21st-century library user with 19th-century facilities. To serve modern society well, our library facilities need to fit our community's needs. Technological infrastructure, handicapped accessibility and climate-control systems are not luxuries but expectations.

As co-chairs of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh's Libraries for LIFE Capital Campaign, we are working together to ensure that Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh remains a vital regional asset. Keeping libraries alive is tremendously important to the historical legacy of Pittsburgh and to the future strength of our community.

Since 2001, six neighborhood locations and the first floor of the main library in Oakland have been renovated thanks to Libraries for LIFE. The results have been increased visitors and circulation, and a vibrancy that is unmatched.

Local foundations, corporations, government and a few key individuals have contributed nearly $50 million toward the campaign's $55 million goal. Now it's time for the rest of the Pittsburgh community to hear the call. We need the citizens of this region to share their passion for libraries by providing the last $5 million by the end of 2008.

Andrew Carnegie gave this region a tremendous gift -- a library system that is not simply about books, but about the people and communities it serves. It is now our responsibility to see that Carnegie's passion is extended to a new generation.

As a community we have the power and the privilege to shape the future -- to help individuals reach their potential, to stabilize and strengthen our communities and to ensure that Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh remains "free to the people."

The two of us have joined forces because we share Carnegie's legacy and his vision. Please join us to make our city's libraries a priority.


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