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Carnegie Library cash panic a bit fishy

| Friday, Oct. 9, 2009

Check it out: The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh's finances are in a shambles.

Or are they?

At first glance, the situation certainly appears dire.

The library announced Tuesday it would take drastic steps to remedy significant financial problems. Four branches will close, two will merge and one will relocate; operating hours will be dramatically cut and 30 jobs eliminated.

Dig a little deeper, however, and it's easy to get the impression library trustees recently read a book titled, "Panic as Panacea: Achieving Your Goals By Inducing Fear."

Not to suggest times aren't tough at the Carnegie. But what better way to persuade the city, county, state or foundation community to cut a check pronto than to suggest the library system is on the verge of pulling a Lehman Brothers?

A review of the library's most recent annual report reveals nary a hint of the doomsday scenario being discussed.

Library President and Director Barbara Mistick stated the system "faced an increasingly difficult funding challenge." But nowhere did she suggest the funding challenge would prove so daunting that four of the system's 19 libraries would need to be shuttered.

In fact, the annual report celebrated some good financial news: The library's capital campaign to renovate or replace aging libraries raised $53 million of its $55 million goal.

To illustrate the Carnegie's cost-cutting plan packs more panic-producing punch than it does logic, consider this: The Hazelwood library, one facility the capital program enabled to relocate to more modern space, is targeted for closure.

Further buttressing the panic-production theory is the announced relocation of the landmark Mt. Washington branch from its prominent Grandview Avenue location to nearby Virginia Avenue's compact, two-block business district.

Details of the impending move can't be called sketchy, because there are no details — not even the rather important one of how much money would be saved.

"There is no (relocation) site identified at this point in time, and there is no timeline for the completion of the move," library spokeswoman Trina Walker said Thursday.

The Carnegie decided to permanently shutter more than 20 percent of its facilities to combat an anticipated budget shortfall next year of approximately 5 percent.

Seems an extreme solution to the problem.

Was this doomsday scenario announced to induce public panic• Is the Carnegie overstating its financial difficulties to put pressure on elected and foundation officials to cough up money•

Perhaps not. But borrowing one of the Carnegie's medical texts isn't necessary to understand that hacking off a hand is a curious way to treat a hangnail.

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