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Grasping at straws

Save the libraries

Published: Thursday, January 27, 2011

Updated: Wednesday, March 9, 2011 21:03

The library has always been one of my favorite places. During the long Pittsburgh winter, when snowy gloom closes in and the mere presence of several snowflakes causes citywide tension to skyrocket high as a velociraptor on steroids, one of the most comfortable things a person can possibly do is curl up someplace safe and warm with a book.

There are few places safer and warmer than a library.

And I'm afraid I will never be able to advocate strongly enough for that almighty sensation of getting lost in a good book. I spent the entire last week of my winter break re-reading the Harry Potter series, and though I'm sort of an adult, it was still a thrill to half-exist for a few days in an action-packed imaginary world. (Man, do I wish I'd gotten a letter from Hogwarts in fifth grade.)

Teenage wizard novels aside, you can find almost anything in a library, especially when you visit the Carnegie Library in Oakland. Magazines, biographies of dead famous people, true-crime thrillers, short stories, long stories, romance novels with Fabio on the cover, etc.; it's all there, all for you. And, what's more, if you seek out the right window-ledge seat, you'll have an unobstructed view of the dinosaur exhibit in the adjacent museum.

I'm afraid for the libraries of America, and certainly for the libraries of Pennsylvania. With recent budget slashes, more and more community branches have closed. When I worked at the Brentwood Library for a few years in high school, I watched in dismay as state cuts diminished the number of staff, the number of new books ordered and the number of programs for kids, teens and adults.

It's almost painful for me to watch what I fear is the slow death of an institution that is both well-loved and incredibly important to everyone. Where would we be, without a forum in which we could read about anything we want (for free!), both as an escape and as a way to broaden our worldviews? Where would I be? Well, really bored and significantly less intelligent, for one.

The library is not just a building with books. It is a portal to the unknown. Do your part to keep this portal open - visit a library, any library. The Carnegie main branch in Oakland is a good place to start. Its awe-inspiring exterior, complete with Greek columns, gives way to an equally beautiful and high-ceilinged interior; it's guaranteed to make you feel like a philosopher. Plus, there's almost nothing that building doesn't house. There's even a café, if you're hungry (but don't bring that food near the books).

Or take a trip around the city and check out as many county libraries as you can; the Allegheny County system is a veritable trove of libraries, with 46 in total. Visit the Brentwood Library, my old haunt; are the middle-schoolers still discussing crushes in the back corner? Is there still a gaggle of local women clamoring for the latest Janet Evanovich title? Are the romance novels halfway as ridiculous?

There's even a Downtown branch on Smithfield Street. You can't miss it - it's behind the huge glass windows filled with several balloons and pasted with white bubble letters reading "LIBRARY."

It might be cold and miserable, but once you pick a library, select a book and curl up in a bright, warm corner, you'll be transported to a world within pages. And, what's more, you'll be helping an institution that needs your support.

Kate Dillon is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at dillonk1@duq.edu.

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