Hillman Library Reinvented at 50

  • The Hillman Library is undergoing a multi-year makeover with new services, spaces and equipment for its users. The plan is to renovate one floor each year, from the top of the building to the bottom, with work expected to be completed in 2022 or 2023. This image is a proposed aerial view of the Hillman Library interior facing Wesley W. Posvar Hall.
  • This image is an artist rendering of the proposed view of the Hillman Library ground floor facing the Cathedral of Learning.
  • Pitt students work on assignments on the current ground floor of Hillman Library.
  • This archival image shows the card catalog in Hillman Library in 1968 — the year the library opened.
  • Fifty years later, the card catalogs are gone and portable whiteboards like these are a common sight throughout Hillman as students and researchers map out projects.

In 1968, Pitt students were paying $1.50 to see a movie, listening to the newly released White Album by The Beatles and closely monitoring the war in Vietnam.

But the big news on campus on Friday, Sept. 6, of that year, was the dedication of Pitt’s new five-story Hillman Library at Forbes Avenue and Schenley Drive.

Hillman anniversary events

1960s Throwback Night
Tuesday, Feb. 20
8-10 p.m.
Hillman Library, G-49

The 1960s Throwback Night will feature a screening of the 1968 George Romero zombie classic “Night of the Living Dead” as well as ’60s games and candy from the era.

Hillman Library, Analytics and Formative Ideas
Thursday, March 15
4-5 p.m.
Hillman Library, Thornburgh Room, First Floor

University architect Canard Grigsby will present an overview of the guiding principles establishing a timeless piece of contextual architecture.

What’s Behind the Name: Hillman Library
Monday, April 9
4-5 p.m.
Hillman Library, Thornburgh Room, First Floor

Pitt archivist David Grinnell explores the origins of the Hillman name.

Initially stocked with 600,000 volumes, the stately limestone building has served as a hub for students, faculty and researchers for five decades. Now it is undergoing a multiyear makeover with new services, spaces and equipment for its users. The plan is to renovate one floor each year, from the top of the building to the bottom, with work expected to be completed in 2022 or 2023.

A team of librarians has been busy loading carts of books — now numbering in the several millions — and wheeling them to other parts of the building. Approximately 10 miles of books have been moved so far, along with items ranging from old maps to microfilm. Some have been relocated to the Library Resource Facility on Thomas Boulevard in Point Breeze, where a new storage module is being constructed. These items are still available, though — patrons can simply submit a request on the PittCat+ database.

As methods of teaching and learning change, so does a university library.

“We’re going from a place of information consumption to a place of knowledge creation,” said Kornelia Tancheva, director of Pitt’s University Library System (ULS). “And our librarians have a lot to offer as facilitators in this transition to digital.”

The renovation is bringing new resources — some already in place and some yet to come — and a continued emphasis on endeavors that have made resources more easily available to library users.

These forward-thinking features include the following:

New student spaces

Currently, there are a dozen enclosed group study rooms throughout Hillman. At the end of the renovation, there could be as many as 100. Students can reserve the spaces for up to six hours per month, and each room — outfitted with comfortable chairs, tables and a whiteboard — are to be tech-enabled with a digital display that allows students to upload material from their laptops. Plans include adding more spaces for audio and video production, as well.

New teaching tools

The ULS is already collaborating with the Center for Teaching and Learning's Open Lab, where Pitt faculty members are experimenting with 3-D printers, virtual reality and 360-degree video cameras as innovative teaching tools. Soon, other Pitt units that support teaching and learning may be visible at Hillman from time to time. For example, the Writing Center may have a presence for an afternoon. The following morning, Pitt’s Center for Creativity might set up shop. “We can work together with these units to help teachers and learners have the best experience possible,” said Tancheva.

Tech equipment

Thanks to an updated equipment room at Hillman, students can now borrow the tools needed to make their own movies for class projects. There have always been laptops, iPads, phone chargers and battery packs available. Now, anyone with a Pitt ID can check out a Stream capture card, zoom audio recording kit, GH7 digital camera kit, Magnus tripod, Dracast lighting kit, a Logitech conference call station, a vlogging kit, portable projector or a Hero 5 Go Pro with an optional selfie stick.

“We hope having access to these tools inspires users to be creative,” said Abby Jacobsen, equipment room coordinator. “Maybe someone will unlock a hidden talent and find a new passion they didn’t know they had.”

Visualizing data

Also in the works are plans for a Data Visualization Lab, which will support specialized work with data analysis, geographic information systems (GIS), 3-D modeling and other computational research and scholarship. GIS can be applied across various disciplines: For example, think of August Wilson’s “Pittsburgh Cycle” of 10 plays, nine of them set in the Hill District. If one maps the parts of the plays that have geographic meaning — the location of a store, a meeting place, a character’s backyard — and combines that layer of information with layers that show historical information and changes to the landscape, GIS allows users to view the data differently.

“Suddenly a literary text has become more of an urban studies text,” said Tancheva.

Archives and special collections

The unique collections of personal papers, manuscripts, rare photos and the like that make up Archives and Special Collections are special features of the ULS. Expect this material to be prominently celebrated on campus, as librarians plan more exhibits and interactive displays throughout Hillman, including an instruction space embedded with technology that makes the images, texts and recordings come alive. Newer collections include the Erroll Garner Archive; the Bob Johnson Papers, 1949-2003; a gift of 800 mechanical pop-up books to the Elizabeth Nesbitt Children’s Collection; the papers of Elizabeth Lloyd and other noteworthy philosophers added to the Archives of Scientific Philosophy; and the papers of best-selling novelist Bebe Moore Campbell.

Accessible research

The ULS remains committed to a significant open-access publishing program that now includes more than 100 journal titles with content accessible and free to users anywhere in the world. Under the Compact for Open-Access Publishing Equity, the ULS pays the fee charged to the researcher by the journal. It’s a model initiated by former ULS Director Rush Miller who, in his 20 years in that position, worked to modernize services and build technology platforms that would extend content as well as build support structures for digital scholarship more broadly.

“The goal was to keep the library system relevant to the needs of the campus community and to build an expectation of innovation into our approaches to library services,” said Miller.

In total, the newly renovated Hillman Library will continue to fulfill its mission to facilitate the academic success of all who come through its doors — 2 million visits in 2017. But it will do so by meeting new demands from faculty and students for fresh approaches to learning and new innovative tools.

“Libraries are places that inspire the human spirit,” said Tancheva. “One should walk into a library and feel more connected to knowledge.”

the front page of the March 27, 1953 issue of The Pitt News

Library efforts bring The Pitt News, other archives online

On Jan. 6, 1937, a front-page headline in The Pitt News announced plans for a huge Downtown parade to honor the Pitt football team returning from its Rose Bowl victory.

On Dec. 8, 1941, the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a Pitt News editorial cautioned that male students may have to complete drills at regular periods and purchase military uniforms.

On Aug. 4, 1969, The Pitt News reported that a national Vietnam Moratorium Committee was calling for a one-day boycott of classes at universities across the country on Oct. 15.

Readers can now relive regional and American history through the perspective of a university student in print issues of The Pitt News dating back to 1910. Some 6,100 issues have been scanned by a team at Pitt’s Digital Research Library and are now housed on the Documenting Pitt website, ending with Dec. 14, 1998. Later print issues will be added on an ongoing basis, year by year, as they are scanned.

While early editions in the 1920s contained a lot of fraternity news, issues in the 1980s began featuring concert reviews. Then-Senator John F. Kennedy’s 1959 visit to Pitt was covered, as were hundreds of other visits, lectures and sporting events throughout the years. Some issues feature articles by notable former Pitt students — for instance, author Michael Chabon and Myron Kopelman, who went on to become legendary sports broadcaster Myron Cope.

Cigarette ads jump off the pages, as do ads for pipes, automobiles, department stores, shoe shine parlors and restaurants offering “light lunches for 35 cents” in the 1930s.

The paper increased production from two or three issues per week starting in 1963 and to five issues per week in 1997.

“Once the paper began printing five days a week, there was a lot of information available,” said University Archivist Zachary Brodt, who helped oversee the project. “You could follow stories as they were happening.”

Pitt’s Digital Collections are popular with scholars, researchers and inquisitive laypeople. While Audubon’s Birds of America may be the most impressive, other collections are constantly being included. Minutes from Pitt’s Board of Trustees meetings — from 1845 through 1945 — will be added this term.

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