Library proposes to cut spending, hours rather than close branches


In an effort to gather community thoughts and opinions in response to the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh funding crisis, the library held a community workshop at Providence Family Support Center on Sept. 18.

To prevent the closing of neighborhood branches, the library’s new budget proposal includes reducing hours in all locations, staggering by branch to ensure that community members always have an open alternative location nearby.

The library would reduce spending on collections (books, movies, magazines and other resources), using only the state-required 12 percent of operating expenses instead of the current 13.3 percent.

The library needs to bridge a $1.7 million funding gap for 2011. Cutting service and staggering open days at community branches ensures that no library will close entirely, and residents will have access to at least one nearby branch every day.

The community response to hour and collection cutbacks as an alternative to closing branches has been positive.

The two Northside library branches, Allegheny and Woods Run, were not among those cited for closure back in 2009. Yet at the meeting at Providence Family Support Center on Brighton Road, concerned locals, volunteers and library employees still turned out to discuss an effective plan for next year.

The emphasis of the Sept. 18 meeting lay in keeping all of the branches open, instead of targeting a few to close.

Even though the proposal was well received in general, Pittsburghers still found fault with some aspects, like funding cutbacks on computers, programming and purchasing materials.

Participants questioned how the library will spread awareness of a staggered schedule and asked about the issue of transportation to an alternative, open location.

Many mentioned technology as one of the most popular aspects of the library, and the discussion summaries on the CLP website show that some Pittsburghers view both physical and electronic collections as the backbone of the library.

The full presentation, including examples of a possible staggered schedule, is available at the library’s website,

Trina Walker, director of communications and creative services for the CLP, said the response at all 12 meeting locations was positive.

“Obviously there’s nothing that’s unanimous, but the themes that emerged were consistent. When I say that overall the response was positive, that came from every neighborhood, not just some of them. We showed everybody the plan, and they got it.”

This meeting, in addition to others held elsewhere, was part 3 of 3 in the “Community Conversation” process, launched after public outcry over its plan to close several branches.

The uproar over the proposed branch closings was enough to procure stop-gap funding from the city. Combined with increased fines and fees, voluntary retirement and delayed hiring processes, the library found enough money to take care of expenses for 2010, and keep all of the branches open.

Unfortunately the city is unlikely to provide the same stop-gap funding again. With 2011 approaching, the library faces two potential scenarios: either they receive more stop-gap funding, or they continue to operate with a projected deficit of $1.7 million.

The library held the “Community Conversations” to draw on local dialogue and allow Pittsburghers to help design an effective solution, with the ultimate goal of a “financially and operationally healthy” library system.

Part 1 (April and May) was aimed at confirming and updating the issues; Part 2 (June and July) at testing ideas for how to reach a healthy library; and Part 3 (August and September), aimed at refining those ideas and looking ahead towards the library’s future.

The library has also dispatched a Public/Private Task Force in an effort to find alternative means of long-term funding and resources. While stop-gap funding has temporarily filled the void, the CLP needs a sustainable source of money for the coming years.

For those who missed the meetings but still wish to contribute, the CLP website highlights plenty of ways for community members to get involved. Locals have options such as writing to officials in support of the library, telling their personal story, volunteering at a local branch, or offering a donation.

According to the CLP website, very little bit helps and every voice contributes towards keep Pittsburgh’s libraries open and healthy.

Tracy Patinski is a full-time graduate student in Carnegie Mellon’s professional writing program and currently interns with The Northside Chronicle.

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