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Libraries look to private sector, fear worse to come

Mary Pickels
| Wednesday, April 25, 2012, 11:24 p.m.

After recovering from last year's devastating 22 percent cut in state funding for libraries, Mt. Pleasant Free Public Library Director Jamie Falo wondered what might be next.

She found out when the state cut funding 9.1 percent for this budget year, a move Falo says will result in even more reductions in hours -- probably by at least one hour a day -- at the library that has served the community for more than 70 years.

"We were hoping we wouldn't get hit hard again this year," said Falo, who was forced to cut operating hours, reduce staff hours and made only the minimum purchases needed to meet state standards during this past budget year.

With state money evaporating, Falo said she's been forced to look at alternative funding sources to stay afloat.

A group called the Friends of the Mt. Pleasant Library has tried to plug gaps left by the state cuts, said Falo, whose library has about 2,500 patrons in Mt. Pleasant and Mt. Pleasant Township.

She said the group, which has raised money to purchase essential library supplies and fund programming, has been "remarkable."

Denise Sticha, director of the Murrysville Library, said her facility's loss of $21,000 last year forced her to close early one night and trim one staff position.

But her library's foundation has begun a "wildly successful" summer fund drive that has netted $12,000 since June for book purchases.

Falo and Sticha are not alone in looking elsewhere for help.

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh applied to the Allegheny Regional Asset District for more money to keep all branches open all year, seeking more than $19.3 million in 2011. That's an increase of more than $1.7 million or 9.8 percent over this year.

"We hope this submission would allow the library to perform basic services for 2011, which would mean we could keep our hours, locations, programs and services intact," said Carnegie Library spokeswoman Suzanne Thinnes.

The main library in Oakland is open 60 hours a week, and the system runs 19 libraries. However, the Carnegie Library approved a plan last fall to close branches in Lawrenceville, Beechview, Hazelwood and Knoxville; merge the Carrick and Knoxville branches; and move the Mt. Washington library from Grandview to Virginia avenues because of projected budget deficits.

After a community backlash, the Carnegie Library delayed plans to close the four branches and move the Mt. Washington branch after the city came up with $1.24 million to keep the branches open through this year.

Cesare Muccari, Greensburg Hempfield Area Library director, said his group is taking a wait-and-see approach because of fears the cuts could be even greater.

With the proposed drop in state funding, his library would lose about $12,500 in revenue to add to the approximately $40,000 lost under the previous year's budget, Muccari said.

But even more critical is the uncertainty that remains about whether the state will receive approximately $850 million in possible federal funds that were used to balance the 2010-11 state budget, he said.

The cuts to libraries could prove even greater if federal money is not received, as some have suggested, Muccari explained.

"I'm holding my breath," he said. "I don't want to go and have a plan in place if there are going to be more cuts and I have to deal with something more drastic. ... We're just waiting to see what happens."

The $40,000 lost with the 2009-10 state budget resulted in the library closing on Fridays and cutting some programs, Muccari said.

At the Scottdale Public Library, director Patti Miller, who lost about $7,000 in state funds last year and stands to lose about $3,000 this year, said she's looking to the public for help on two fronts.

"You can only go to the well so many times ... , " she said. "but we're hoping the businesses like those who have donated to us in the past will help ... ."

But Miller wants the public to hold lawmakers accountable for the reductions.

"They are absolutely letting us down and telling the community that their well-being, their education, their social connections aren't important, because that's what the library provides," she said.

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