Carnegie Library earns good rating in national study

Saw 5th-highest usage increase among 15 cities
March 8, 2012 9:12 am

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A weak economy has turned urban libraries such as Pittsburgh's into quasi-community centers, filling in as "default providers" of free computer access for job seekers, health information and government services.

That's according to a study released Wednesday by the Pew Charitable Trusts that looked at 15 metropolitan libraries across the country.

The study showed Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is holding its own when it comes to meeting community needs.

"If you look at visits, circulation, resources, branches and computers, Pittsburgh falls mostly in the top half of the pack," said Claire Shubik Richards, the primary researcher and writer of the report.

The study -- at www.pewtrusts.org -- is from Pew's Philadelphia Research Initiative. It looks most closely at Philadelphia and is designed to measure how that city's library system is faring, said Larry Eichel, project director of the Philadelphia initiative.

"Our goal is to inform the debate" over the increased burden that libraries are shouldering and the ways of funding that role, Mr. Eichel said.

Among the 15 cities studied, library visits rose on average 6 percent from 2005-2011, while circulation of print and CD/DVD materials increased by 18 percent. Visits grew by more than 20 percent in Detroit, Baltimore, Seattle and Atlanta. Circulation of materials increased 50 percent in Seattle, and more than 30 percent in San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Atlanta and Brooklyn.

"Most people who visit the library are doing more than one thing," Ms. Richards said. "The No. 1 thing is still checking out books."

The findings show that Carnegie Library had the fifth-highest increase in usage, up 16 percent from 2005 to 2011. That compares to the top increase, in Detroit (28 percent), and the biggest drop, Charlotte (24 percent decline).

Other numbers for Carnegie Library:

• Circulation was up 7 percent for the same period. The highest was Seattle (up 50 percent); the lowest was Columbus, Ohio (down 12 percent).

• Circulation per capita was 7.5 items in 2011. The most was Seattle (18.8), and the least was Baltimore (2).

• Spending per capita was $54 in 2011, compared to the highest, San Francisco ($101), and the lowest, Phoenix ($24).

• The number of computers was 9.4 per 10,000 residents. Seattle had the most (17.1) while Phoenix had the fewest (3.5).

• Government revenue fell by 12 percent from 2009-2011. San Francisco's went up the most (5 percent); Los Angeles dropped the most (a 34 percent decline).

• Full-time positions dropped 6 percent for the same period. Atlanta increased the most (9 percent); Charlotte dropped the most (34 percent decline).

The study notes that Pittsburgh voters approved a new property tax in the fall that will mean $3.25 million in additional library funding each year.

"Until this point, Pittsburgh has been doing a lot with constrained resources," Ms. Richards said. "It's one of three places where voters endorsed increases." The others are Columbus and Los Angeles.

Sally Kalson: skalson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1610.
First Published 2012-03-07 23:38:30

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