You have through Thursday to help save the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.
That's a slight exaggeration, of course: Preserving this embattled but invaluable asset will be a long process, and there'll be plenty of opportunities to donate and volunteer, and to advocate for more funding.
But Thursday is your last chance to help shape the library's future as part of the Carnegie Library's months-long Community Conversation process.
The most recent Community Conversation meetings held in libraries themselves were held Sept. 18-20, with some 250 people attending.
Attendees told what they value about the library, said what they'd change, and offered ideas about helping with the system's funding crisis.
An outline of the problems the library faces follows. But if you want to cut to the chase, a series of very short questionnaires and surveys (that shouldn't take more than a few minutes to complete) is online at http://www.carnegielibrary.org/future/.
The Carnegie Library has faced funding shortfalls for years, with hours and services reduced and branch closings threatened. Last year, the worst cutbacks were avoided thanks to a big one-time cash infusion from the City of Pittsburgh.
By national standards, the Carnegie remains underfunded by city government. But given municipal government's own problems, that's not likely to change. State funding, while strong, is dropping. And money from the Carnegie's single biggest source of funds -- the county's Regional Asset District -- has flatlined. (RAD's revenues come from a sales tax.)
In short, the library faces a predicted $1.7 million shortfall next year, rising to $4.4 million by 2014.
If more funding is not available, how should the library proceed?
Currently, no branch closings are being considered. But while operating hours have already been cut, one option is to cut them some more.
For instance, in 2002, the Oakland main branch was open 69 hours a week. Now it's open 60 hours a week. A necessary cutback might whack that down to 50 hours. Other branches (whose hours are shorter to begin with) face similar cuts.
Should the libraries instead (or additionally) reduce programming, like special events and enrichment for adults, or kids? Off-site outreach programs?
Or maybe it should buy fewer books and DVDs, or reduce the number of public computers.
Aside from filling out the surveys, what can you do to help?
According to the library's website, the most important thing is to advocate for the library, pressing state and local officials to keep or increase funding, and recruiting friends to do the same.
One way to do this is to join a "Friends" group, such as most Carnegie branches have.
You can also volunteer at the library, to help staff do more with less.
You can even just donate cash. If just 5 percent of the system's 125,000 adult cardholders chipped in $25 each, the library says, it would raise $156,000.
That's less than 10 percent of what's needed to stanch the shortfall next year alone. But it'd be a start.