Carnegie Library back on solid financial footing

In 2009, system was threatened by funding cutback

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What a difference five years make.

In 2009, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh was teetering on a precipice, faced with a dramatic drop in state revenues and the prospect of shuttered branches, shorter hours and fewer users because of competition from the Internet.

Today, the library system is on solid ground again, thanks to revenues from two new funding sources -- a new property tax of 0.25 mill approved by voters in 2011 and money from a casino gambling tax.

"We feel we're in a position of strength and stability when it comes to finances," the library's president and director Mary Frances Cooper said Wednesday, hours before a "State of the Library" public meeting at the East Liberty branch.

Those two new revenue streams have had an immediate, tangible effect, with more hours added to libraries at every branch, six days a week.

"We've also been staying open until 8 p.m. because earlier closing times meant working people and families didn't have the chance to go to libraries," Ms. Cooper said. There are even Saturday hours at the library Downtown, "and they're busy, even on Saturdays, because a lot more people live Downtown."

An aggressive fundraising effort yielded about $1.3 million in individual donations last year, and another $1.3 million from trusts, grants, foundations and corporations. There's been a 2 percent increase in funding from the Regional Asset District -- which makes up about 64 percent of the library's budget -- and there is sufficient state funding in this year's budget.

Overall, in 2013 the system received $29.7 million in revenue, while its expenses were $29.5 million, and that $179,000 surplus will be plowed back into providing services.

In 2014, the budget has been set for $30.4 million, and a series of capital projects are underway to improve buildings, make them handicapped accessible, and fix roofs, air-conditioning and windows, and add more plug-ins for electronic devices.

There's activity all over town: A Hazelwood branch under construction will open this spring or early summer; the West End library, closed for renovation, will open in early May; and Beechview's library will close in June for renovations. Planning also is underway to rehab libraries in Carrick, Knoxville and Mount Washington.

For 2014, there are two big priorities: increased community engagement -- more teen and children's services, for example -- and expanded digital initiatives. The library has hired Toby Greenwalt as its new director of digital strategy and technology integration to help fully link the library's physical services with the virtual world.

As part of that, Hoopla, a service that will offer free video -- movies and television -- and music content to library patrons throughout the county, will go live April 1. Anyone with a valid library card will be able to borrow up to eight items per month, with video content borrowed for three days and music content borrowed for seven days.

Even with renewed emphasis on the system's digital capabilities, "we still want to encourage people to visit us in our buildings," Ms. Coopersaid, and to that end, she and her staff are working on a list of ideas that would accomplish that all over the city.


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