Library system trims five Carnegie branches across city
Under the gaze of Andrew Carnegie at the Oakland library yesterday, library director Barbara Mistick talks of plans to close five branches.
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For the first time in its 114-year history, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh will close five of its 19 branches next year to cover a projected $1.2 million budget deficit.
The library will also trim its staff by 30 people and reduce operating hours 28 percent starting in January. Fees and fines will be increased as well.
By 18-4, with one abstention, the library's board of trustees Monday voted to close the Lawrenceville, Beechview, West End and Hazelwood branches and merge Knoxville and Carrick branches. Except for Lawrenceville, those actions will take effect in February.
"There were a lot of pained expressions in the room over the vote," city Councilman Bruce Kraus, who's also a trustee, said yesterday, "but it was clear the library really did its homework on these decisions."
Opened in 1898, the Lawrenceville building on Fisk Street is the Carnegie Library's first branch. It will be shut when the renovated East Liberty facility reopens later in 2010. The Mount Washington branch building, opened in 1900 on Grandview Avenue, will be closed. A new facility will be housed in a still-to-be determined location on Virginia Avenue to attract more traffic.
"We took two factors in consideration," said Barbara Mistick, library director and president. "Assuring access to the greatest number of users and means to sustain the library system long-term. These changes should carry us for a couple of years, at least."
Most of the remaining branches have been either replaced or renovated under a $55 million capital campaign. Except for Hazelwood, which moved to a new location a few years ago, the targeted buildings have not been renovated.
Ms. Mistick said the decision to close the unrenovated ones was based on a Carnegie Mellon University study of branch usage, which showed that the upgraded buildings attracted more patrons.
"The new branches have a high level of use, but the unrenovated ones draw more people from their immediate area, a smaller circle of use," she said. "Because we are trying to serve the greatest number of people per location, it was felt that we should base the decisions on that criterion."
"We needed to move quickly with these drastic decisions," said Jacqui Lazo, board chair. "The library system was designed for a city twice the size of Pittsburgh today. We have more branches per capita than any other system our size."
The actions were not unexpected. Following the country's economic downturn last year, the library had been laying the groundwork since late winter with the release of studies by CMU and the Rand Corp. indicating that without new sources of revenue, retrenchment was needed.
After releasing predictions of a $6 million shortfall by 2014, it followed with three town hall-style public meetings in the summer to collect suggestions on how to save money.
Both Ms. Mistick and Ms. Lazo praised the citizen participation at the meetings and passion for the branches yesterday, "but we needed long-term solutions now," Ms. Lazo said.
The board's vote followed action by the Regional Asset District board last week, which allocated the library $17.6 million for 2010, the same amount it received this year. Ms. Mistick said that the prediction of a budget deficit next year is based on inflation and the assumption that state funds -- $4.7 million this year -- will be reduced significantly in the still-delayed state budget.
She believed the cut could range between 30 percent to 70 percent.
During the library's budget campaign this year, it frequently cited the $40,000 annual contribution from the city of Pittsburgh, the same amount the city made in 1895 when the main library opened in Oakland. Until the RAD funding system began in 1995, the city was the library's prime source of revenue, a fact emphasized yesterday by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl in his reaction to the reductions.
"In 1993, Pittsburgh provided the Carnegie Library with $5.3 million," Mr. Ravenstahl said, "then RAD took over the responsibility. But city taxpayers and county taxpayers contribute to the $17 million the library gets, so it's wrong to suggest that our contribution is only $40,000."
The city owns the buildings of the branches scheduled to close, but the mayor said no thought has been given to plans for the structures if they are abandoned.
The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh system does not include the 44 suburban libraries that are part of the Allegheny County Library Association.
First Published October 7, 2009 12:00 am