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Carnegie, Sewickley libraries wary over potential loss of federal funding

| Saturday, April 1, 2017, 12:33 a.m.
The Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall in Carnegie shown Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015.
Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
The Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall in Carnegie shown Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015.

When she tries to explain how she sees the role of the public library in the 21st century, Andrew Carnegie Free Library director Diane Klinefelter points to a quote from, of all people, musician Keith Richards.

“He said the library belongs to you,” Klinefelter said. “Libraries really are the great equalizers. Not everybody has an opportunity to go out and buy a new book or a new DVD. But the library provides access for everybody.”

As National Library Week approaches, there is a new threat on the horizon for local libraries across the country. While they're used to dealing with funding issues, the budget proposal from the Trump administration presents a major potential problem — the president's budget eliminates the Institute for Museum and Library Sciences, which would gut federal funding for libraries.

Every state receives funding through the Institute of Museum and Library Services to support libraries and museums. In fiscal year 2014, the American Library Association received $154.8 million, according to the group. The IMLS also offers grant opportunities to libraries and museums and made 594 grants totaling more than $54.7 million in 2014.

According to the Allegheny County Library Association, IMLS funding for the state represents $5.4 million.

“The impact would be most significant on libraries that serve at-risk communities,” said Marilyn Jenkins, executive director of the Allegheny County Library Association, “but the cuts would be felt by all of our libraries.”

Part of the problem is that libraries don't have huge marketing budgets to get the word out about all of the services they offer. So Carnegie does numerous outreach programs to bring library services to people in the community, Klinefelter said.

“I know when we did our survey of Carnegie Borough it revealed to us that a good many people did not know we offer downloadable ebooks and audio and video libraries,” she said. “We're getting into the maker space too, with 3-D printing. That's not what people think of when they think of their library. So much of what the library provides now is tech literacy.”

Carolyn Toth, director of the Sewickley Public Library, agreed that the modern day library is vastly different from the one people remember from their childhoods.

“I wish we were a quiet library,” Toth joked, “but that is definitely not what Sewickley Public Library is. I think people would find it to be a vibrant place that has evolved into a social and community hub.”

Toth added that the Sewickley library is considering redoing part of its downstairs area to accommodate more meetings.

“We have so many social gatherings, which is why we're a little noisier than the average library,” she said.

The situation with the IMLS funding is concerning, but that Sewickley has been fortunate to have strong local fundraising to support its efforts, Toth said.

Jenkins urged people who want to protect their libraries' funding to contact their elected representatives. She pointed to last year's Love Your Library awareness campaign, which generated $535,000 in contributions, as an example of how strongly people in Allegheny County feel about their libraries.

“When we all work together, collectively, we can go a long way toward plugging some of the gaps.”

Kim Lyons is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

Correction, April 3, 2017: Funding from the Institute for Museum and Library Sciences for Pennsylvania represents $5.4 million in 2014, according to the Allegheny County Library Association. Incorrect information was provided to the Tribune-Review.

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