If the city has any extra money, now is the time to spend it. The city of Pittsburgh only puts forth $40,000 per year for the libraries, relying instead of kind benefactors, RAD tax dollars, and the state. Yesterday, Mayor Ravenstahl was quick to point out that before the Regional Asset District (RAD) was created, the city put forth millions of dollars per year for the libraries. The problem here is that county and city residents contribute to RAD dollars, and the city can not control how RAD spends its money. The city can only control how it spends its money. We've given away our library system to RAD, and RAD is keeping it. Now, 4 libraries are closing in February.
From their web page: The mission of RAD is to support and finance regional assets in the areas of libraries, parks and recreation, cultural, sports and civic facilities and programs.
First in the mission statement, they list libraries, and the Carnegie libraries will receive $17.6 Million this year. Another $8.1 Million is devoted to the county libraries. The other big receiver from RAD dollars is the regional parks. The parks are budgeted to receive $24.3 Million. Their allocation has increased 19% over the last five years. The Carnegie library budget was flat over the last year.
Over the last 14 years (since RAD's inception), here's a brief run-down of spending totals:
Libraries: $331 Million
Parks: $287 Million
Stadiums: $220 Million
The Carnegie Library system has decided that communities like Beechview, Carrick, and Hazelwood are dispensable. These libraries, that have not been renovated like the lovely Oakland and Squirrel Hill libraries, do not draw people from outside their neighborhoods. South Side library was another library on the chopping block. This heavily-frequented (yet not renovated) library just celebrated its 100th birthday. It was spared the chopping block.
I'm asking myself this question: Is it more important to have more libraries serving the vast majority of city residents or better libraries that could drive Barnes and Noble out of business? We know what the Carnegie library system chose. Personally, I'd prefer consistent minor improvements to existing libraries rather than closing less popular libraries and building fancy new buildings. But it's too late for that. The city of Pittsburgh is too many steps removed from the actual funding and managing of its libraries, and the most disadvantaged residents will suffer for it.