Taxpayers, gambling revenue boost Carnegie Library
Ten kids squatted on a rug at Beechview's library and listened as children's librarian Julie Moore read Dr. Seuss' “Bartholomew and the Oobleck.”
Afterward, they dyed goo and gleefully dipped their hands in a bowl of it, the mixture streaming like melted putty from their fingers.
If the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh's board had gotten its wish five years ago, those children would have played elsewhere. The board wanted to close branches in Beechview, Hazelwood, Lawrenceville and the West End and to merge those in Carrick and Knoxville because of money problems. The turning point to survival came in 2011, when nearly two-thirds of city voters approved giving the library system a 0.25-mill dedicated property tax.
That same year the system began receiving gambling-tax money.
As a result, the branches once targeted for closure or merger are open and were spruced up or considered for improvements. Library hours across the system have increased 26 percent since 2011, and the staff size has grownfrom 473 to 544.
“(The year) 2013 was very productive for the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. In 2014, we're going to focus on understanding where we need to go in the digital world,” said Mary Frances Cooper, president and director of the library system, which will have its annual public meeting on Wednesday and is studying how it can better use technology to serve patrons.
Thanks to its jolt of tax and gambling money, the Carnegie Library expanded hours at 19 branches to 945.5 a week last year.
Some children at the Dr. Seuss event played hopscotch past 7 p.m., since the Beechview branch now doesn't close until 8 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Hilary Hall, 36, of Beechview brought her daughter, Lilah, 6, and son Jasper, 3, to the event. They visit the branch at least once a week during the school year.
“We're total bookworms,” said Hall, who voted for the library tax. “They would come every day if I'd let them.”
Abryana Martin, 14, of Beechview goes to the library about four times a week. On Monday, she was there watching a movie and playing video games.
“This is pretty much our only recreation center we go to,” she said.
The Beechview branch will close this summer for renovation, but the West End branch will reopen in May after repairs and the Hazelwood branch is moving in June to a bigger building. The library board is weighing whether to renovate the Carrick and Knoxville branches rather than merge them.
Cooper said the library tax raised $900,000 more than expected because of the property reassessment that took effect in 2013. The money helped the system install elevators and air conditioning in buildings.
Allegheny Regional Asset District Executive Director David Donahoe credits the system with increasing its money stream — RAD is the biggest source of funding for the system, which has a $30.4 million annual operating budget.
“The major challenge they face is capital. They have a lot of facilities,” he said.
Lou Testoni, chairman of the Carnegie Library board, said the system can address its building needs, barring a catastrophe.
“We are out of the woods for the near term,” he said.
Bill Zlatos is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7828 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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