Something Old, Something New: Upgrades Bring Unique Features to Hillman Library

  • Several desks with chairs in a row
    A spacious reading room with views of Schenley Plaza is among the amenities on the renovated third floor of Hillman Library. (Courtesy of University of Pittsburgh Facilities Management)
  • A letterpress
    A new Text & conText Lab on the third floor of Hillman Library features a working vintage Vandercook SP-15 letterpress. The lab, a partnership between the University Library System and the Center for Creativity, is meant for creating and exploring typography and fonts, printing and bookbinding techniques as a complement to the examples of book production and printing in Pitt’s archives and special collections. (Justin Pastrick/University Library System)
  • A display case and screen
    Hillman Library’s new touch screen digital wall allows users to explore items from the Special Collections like never before. (Justin Pastrick/University Library System)
  • A person in a face mask using a stylus on a screen
    Patrons can opt to use a stylus as they manipulate through a collection on the digital wall. (Justin Pastrick/University Library System)
  • A study room with tables and chairs and a television screen
    New group study spaces are part of the renovations in Hillman Library. (Courtesy of University of Pittsburgh Facilities Management)
  • A lounge and large screen on a wall
    The third floor at Hillman Library features a new lounge area and technology-enabled classroom. (Courtesy of University of Pittsburgh Facilities Management)
  • Chairs facing windows
    Study space with a view is part of the renovated third floor of Hillman Library. (Courtesy of University of Pittsburgh Facilities Management)

A spacious new high-tech home for the University Library System’s Archives and Special Collections Department is the highlight of the most recent round of renovations at Hillman Library.

Hillman’s third floor is the latest to be completed in the ongoing floor-by-floor, top-down reinvention of the 52-year-old building. The multiyear modernization project, begun in 2017, is expected to be complete by 2023.

Hillman Library is scheduled to reopen on Monday, Aug. 24.

The new third floor features a technology-enabled classroom and consultation rooms for instructors and students, and a large reading room with views of Schenley Plaza.  

This fall, rare and treasured documents, publications and artifacts from the Erroll Garner Archive, the Japanese Woodblock Prints, the George A. Romero Archival Collection, the Kuntu Repertory Theatre Collection, Center for American Music collections, University Archives and others will be on display in about a dozen cases. The exhibits will be changing regularly.

The stunning centerpiece is a 5-by-20-foot digital wall designed to encourage the public to explore and interact with the collections. With the touch of a stylus, a visitor can zoom in on and rotate a Japanese wood block, flip through the virtual pages of a rare book or follow a touchscreen timeline of the construction of the Cathedral of Learning.

Designed and built by Potion, a New York-based company known for its signature digital  installation projects, the wall can accommodate up to a half-dozen visitors simultaneously accessing artifacts and texts, including 3D objects.

“A wall of this magnitude with interactivity for the archives and special collections is unique,” said Ed Galloway, associate University librarian for Archives and Special Collections. “You see these walls in museums and places of cultural heritage, but not too often in an academic library.”

The third floor also now houses the Text & conText Lab, which features another unusual educational tool: a working, vintage letterpress. The new space—a partnership between the ULS and the Center for Creativity—is meant for creating and exploring typography and fonts, bookbinding techniques and other types of creative expression, said Galloway.

“The juxtaposition of the digital exhibit wall, with the physical special collections exhibit cases and the Text & conText Lab is a way of bringing the physical and digital dimensions of libraries together.”

Construction updates

Hillman Library’s third-floor renovation stands out among a short list of facilities updates awaiting students’ return to campus this fall.

The pandemic shut down construction on campus in March. After a review of all projects, a handful of essential ones were restarted in May, after contractors’ site-specific COVID-19 safety plans could be evaluated and put in place, said Scott Bernotas, associate vice chancellor for Facilities Management.

Here’s what’s happening:

  • Renovations at Salk Hall and updates to restrooms on the ground floor of the Cathedral of Learning are in progress.
  • The Bigelow Block Transformation Project is expected to be completed in October. The streetscape and infrastructure project on Bigelow Boulevard between Fifth and Forbes avenues is designed to improve safety for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers, enhance sustainability and improve access to the William Pitt Union. Renovations outside the William Pitt Union will complement updates completed in 2018 on the Schenley Quad, adding outdoor space for student activities and events.
  • The expansion of Scaife Hall is continuing. The 104,000-square-foot addition will modernize infrastructure and add classrooms and laboratory space for the School of Medicine. The project is expected to be complete in late 2022.
  • The Hillside Enabling Project is progressing in support of upgrading the campus’ aging utility infrastructure in preparation for future campus master plan projects. It includes reconfiguring University Drive and upgrading existing stormwater, electrical and other utility lines on the hillside.
  • An addition to the Petersen Sports Complex is nearing completion. The project will house teams and coaches currently in the Fitzgerald Field House and other locations, and will add space for sports medicine, nutrition services and equipment.

As more is known about the pandemic’s long-term impact, the University will continue to review its facilities priorities and modify project plans accordingly, Bernotas said.

Keep up with campus construction progress on the Facilities Management Projects page.