Share This Page

Report recommends mandatory standards for Allegheny County libraries

| Tuesday, July 29, 2014, 12:00 p.m.

Libraries in Allegheny County need to combine their central services, adhere to state standards and find more sources of money, according to a task force report released on Tuesday.

The city-county report, “21st Century Library Service in Allegheny County,” found that funding given to libraries varies wildly, from 16 cents to $42.39 per capita. Some communities provide no money. “As a result, levels of service differ greatly among all libraries.”

A panel chaired by Buhl Foundation President Fred Thieman produced the report, which concluded seven months of work.

By 2018, library deficits will rise from an estimated $530,233 this year to $2.6 million, the panel cautioned. The shortfall covers services such as shipping materials between libraries and technology that allows patrons to use digital card catalogues and browse the Internet.

The panel, composed of representatives from the boards of the Allegheny County Library Association and Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, held community meetings and met with leaders of the 45 independent libraries in Pittsburgh and the county. Foundations paid for the study.

Marilyn Jenkins, executive director of the library association, said a countywide tax should be explored to ensure libraries receive adequate funding. A similar tax in the city goes to the Carnegie Library.

“The goal is not to overtax anybody but to provide consistent funding that benefits the system,” Jenkins said.

The state sets service standards for the library association to cover hours of operation, staffing, collections and resources. Just 17 of the association's 45 member libraries meet all standards.

With money tight several years ago, the Carnegie Library failed to meet state standards for hours of operation and planned to close four branches. The library system shelved the plan and has met standards. Carnegie officials credit the passage of the 0.25-mill tax and money from Rivers Casino, as well as funding from the Allegheny Regional Asset District.

“We're only as strong as all the libraries in the county are strong, and they're only as strong as the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh,” said Mary Francis Cooper, president and director of the system.

Two years ago, the Braddock Carnegie Library had trouble meeting standards for its collections budget and newspaper and magazine subscriptions. Library Director Anita Green expects to meet them all this year.

“On the one hand,” she said, “we should have standards for the sole purpose of having good quality service to all of our patrons. On the other hand, I do understand that money is hard to come by.”

A key finding, Jenkins said, is that 30 library systems get no local support. The Braddock library gets $500 from the municipality and $11,000 from Woodland Hills School District.

Jan McMannis, 67, of Braddock Hills volunteers at the library two or three times a week. She likes the idea of a countywide tax.

“In an area like the Mon Valley ... it's hard to have money generated from the population itself,” she said. “There's not a big tax base.”

Bill Zlatos is a Trib Total Media staff writer.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.