Philadelphia and Pittsburgh Libraries for the Blind to Merge Under State Budget
"Talking" books will be sent to Pittsburgh and Philadelphia clients will have to wait up to a week to receive them.
As part of his fiscal belt-tightening plan, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett announced in January a plan to change the way funding is directed to the state’s two libraries for the blind and physically handicapped, in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
According to an Inquirer report, the decision to move about half a million dollars in funding from the Philadelphia Regional Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, to the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh - which handles service for the blind and disabled in the western part of the state – will cost the Philadelphia branch about 15 of the 30 staff members currently employed at the library.
It also means the end of some popular walk-in services, like assisting clients in Web browsing.
Additionally, effective April 1, both libraries’ entire digital or “talking” book collections will be stored at the Carnegie Library. When a patron in the eastern part of the state requests one of these books, they’ll have to wait up to a week to receive them by mail.
Of the libraries’ current $2.7 million budget, 60 percent now goes to support the Philadelphia branch, which serves 13,000 in the greater Philadelphia area. The remaining funding goes to Pittsburgh, where there are 8,000 clients.
“The Pittsburgh library for the blind is much smaller, with a much smaller base for sending out books,” Deena Laver, receptionist and activity group facilitator for Montgomery County Association for the Blind told Patch on Wednesday. “So the Philly library has a much bigger capacity and we have many more people who use the books.”
Laver, who herself is legally blind, said a lot of people she’s talked to are up in arms about the loss of jobs at the Philadelphia branch.
“The governor is taking jobs away from blind people here,” Laver said. Fifteen workers will lose their jobs. Even in a good economy, 80 percent of blind people can’t find jobs. Now you’re going to put these people out of work.”
And with half as many employees, Laver believes the quality level of customer service the Philadelphia branch is able to offer will decline drastically.
“When you live down here, you just pick up the phone and call the library, and someone helps you right away,” she said. “The service is excellent in Philadelphia. I don’t know that people will be calling Pittsburgh, or that there will be enough people there.”
Corbett’s office defended the governor’s decision for the shift in services, blaming economic projections for the 2012-13 budget discussions.
“This was not a quick reaction and was not done without a great deal of thought, deliberation,” M. Clair Zales, deputy secretary of education in charge of state libraries told the Inquirer.
Larry Mendte, of The Philly Post, called the move “dastardly” and “despicable.”
“The whole thing has the stench of political cronyism,” Mendte wrote. “This isn’t about saving money; it is about shifting the majority of those funds to Pittsburgh, [Corbett’s home county].”
George Matysik, whose sister Victoria, a Montgomery County resident, uses the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped in Philadelphia, concurred.
“I see very little ‘fairness’in the governor’s recent decision to reduce staff and services at Philadelphia’s Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, in favor of the library for the blind in his hometown of Pittsburgh,” Matysik wrote in a letter to the Philly.com editor. “Victoria [who was born without any vision] doesn’t have the option to go elsewhere.”
“It seems kind of silly to move the library when it’s doing just fine,” Laver said. “People feel badly about it, but people think there’s nothing you can do about it. The governor is behind it, and he’s made up his mind.”
In addition to blind Pennsylvanians, the two libraries also serve elderly people with diminished vision capabilities, veterans and others whose injuries impair their ability to read.