PA Republicans Want to Close Philadelphia Library for the Blind

Harrisburg cronyism will move facility to Pittsburgh

It is a plan so dastardly, so despicable, that state and local officials don’t want you to know about it. Pennsylvania has a plan in the works to gut the Philadelphia Library for the Blind, a vital service for the area’s visually impaired. The cover for the move is fiscal conservatism, but that makes no sense as the move may end up costing the state more money. The whole thing has the stench of political cronyism. Governor Tom Corbett and western PA Republicans want to move most of the operations out of Philadelphia to the Carnegie Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped in Pittsburgh, nestled in the Governor’s home county. The two libraries share funds allocated in the state library budget. This isn’t about saving money; it is about shifting the majority of those funds to Pittsburgh.

I understand that elections have consequences. I understand party patronage. I don’t understand making the 13,000 visually disabled people who regularly use the Library suffer because of political gamesmanship. The Philadelphia Library for the Blind lent out 600,000 Braille and recorded books last year. That is 20 percent of the entire circulation of the Philadelphia Library System.

There is another part of the plan that the state doesn’t want you to know about. Once the materials are taken from the Philadelphia Library for the Blind, transported across the state and set up in their new home at Carnegie, the state hopes to build a new facility in suburban Pittsburgh and move everything again. How exactly does that save money?

Or maybe the “cost-efficiency” is in the elimination of 24 of the 28 jobs at the Philadelphia Library for the Blind. Here they are union jobs. When they are transferred to Pittsburgh, they wouldn’t be. I have met several of the employees at the Library for the Blind. They do God’s work, and their patrons depend on their caring and expertise.

These employees have been stung by an efficiency report commissioned by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. A report that is “one of the shoddiest and error ridden reports ever commissioned—a complete waste of taxpayer money,” according to Philadelphia State Representative Michael O’Brien in a blistering letter to the Secretary of Education. O’Brien wrote that the hand- picked, paid consultant who put together the report is “biased” and ignored data that proves the Philadelphia Library is run more efficiently. For instance, the Philadelphia Library received $1.7 million last year to service 13,000 visually disabled individuals at a cost of $130 a patron. Pittsburgh received $1.2 million for 8,000 patrons at a cost of $150 each.

That and other facts ignored by the consultant’s report prove that the employees at the Philadelphia Library for the Blind run a more cost-effective operation that is an intellectual lifeline to the area’s visually disabled. If the city unions want to take a stand against the slow but sure erosion of state and municipal workers’ unions, there is no better place than the library at 919 Walnut Street. You would be making a stand not only for the future of unions, not only for 24 employees who represent the best of government workers, not only for the future of the visually disabled in the Philadelphia area, but for history.

The Philadelphia Library for the Blind is the oldest such library in America, the place where recorded books were invented. It houses one of the largest collections of Braille and recorded books and periodicals in the country. We all deserve better than to watch this treasure disappear into the ugly vacuum of partisan politics.

Larry Mendte writes for The Philly Post every Thursday. See his previous columns here. To watch his video commentaries, go to Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter @LarryMendte.

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  • I am visually impaired and, while I don’t work for the Library system, I do work in the 919 walnut Street facility as a computer instructor. I am also a patron of the Library for the blind and regularly use its services and I’m absolutely sickened about what is happening to blind and visually impaired patrons in Philadelphia. I have to agree that the employees of this library are passionate and dedicated people and what is happening to them is positively a sin. Thank you for bringing this issue out into the light.

  • Political Gamesmanship conquers whatever it is that is in the way. I know politics might not be helpful at times since it just simply provokes personal aggrandizement, but let us not close our doors in realizing its worth. We let them represent us in one way but the other way is for us to check and review on matters which affects us. And this clearly manifests one. Let us be vigilant.

  • Mr. Mendte,

    The report that you are so disdainful of was begun under the governorship of Ed Rendell, not Tom Corbett. Secodnly the library is not being forced to close. On the contrary they are beign encouraged to espand their Braille Collection which they lend out to other states. The only portion of the library that is moving west is the audio portions, where patrons receive specific books, magazines or other literature on tape. The tapes are slowly being converted to digital recordings and will become available online or through the mail as the USPS will still ship them for free to those who request them.

    If you did any type of research and spoke to any Republican legislator, or possibly the State Librarian you might get a more complete picture. No patron who receives audio cassettes or digitally formatted material will lose any service by the move to the Pittsburgh area. Nor will any blind patron out there who reads books in that area in Braille receive any change by those books being moved to the Philly Library. Next time I hope you will do furhter research before you callously print something that is not true.