Libraries

On Sunday, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh – one of the greatest libraries I know of, outside of the New York Public Library – opened for the first time after completing their extensive renovations. It was a magnificent celebration. There were tours, there were children listening to stories and singing songs, there was free pizza. There were books, and music, videos, and people everywhere. The place was completely packed. In a strange way, that was the best part of the opening. Not just that the library exists, but that lots of people care. In a world where we’re constantly bombarded with messages about how Americans are uneducated and ignorant, it’s wonderful to look around and see that this convenient stereotype is not, in fact, universal. The physical plant has been opened up and retouched. There’s now an interior courtyard open to the sky now. There’s a coffee shop (finally!) where we can use the wireless access the Carnegie has been providing for the past few years (they’ve always been ahead of the internet curve) to good effect. The stacks and upstairs research areas remain mostly the same – staid, quiet, reserved, suitable for concentration and study. The downstairs area has been made more vital, more chaotic, more noisy. Terminals (for catalog services, or just for websurfing) dot the landscape – basically, wherever you might want one, it’s there.

The thing a lot of people don’t seem to realize about the Carnegie is that it’s not just books. They’re committed to archiving all sorts of media. There are tens of thousands of music disks in the music section (and, of course, extensive collections of sheet music and related items). There’s a superb movie and DVD collection (I’ll probably never buy Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah, and Blockbuster will surely never carry it, but the Carnegie makes it possible for me to see it.) They have Xbox games, for crying out loud. And graphic novels. And visual art.

I love the Carnegie Library. I imagine myself sitting around saying “If only there were some magical place where I could go in and they would have Aimee Mann’s latest music and Adam Barr’s Proudly Serving my Corporate Masters and I could sit and drink coffee and read and then take them home with me for free, and maybe it would be cool if I could log on to some web site while I was at work and say ‘Hey, send me an email when this item comes in, so I can swing by and pick it up.‘”

And then – poof! – it turns out that place really exists.

Thank you, Andrew Carnegie, and thanks to all of you who work at the Carnegie Library for making my dream come true.

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