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In the Beginning, 1881-1894


The establishment of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh was forecast in a letter, November 25, 1881, from Andrew Carnegie to the Mayor of Pittsburgh in which Mr. Carnegie offered to donate $250,000 for a free library, provided the City would agree to provide the land and appropriate $15,000 annually for its maintenance. This offer could not be accepted, because at that time Pittsburgh was not authorized to expend funds to maintain a public library.

By 1886 the City was assured that the General Assembly would authorize this use of tax funds. An ordinance was therefore passed, incorporating Mr. Carnegie's letter of 1881, and accepting its terms. The enabling act was passed by the General Assembly in 1887, and Mr. Carnegie was notified that Pittsburgh could now accept his offer.

This notification brought another letter from Mr. Carnegie, February 6, 1890, in which he stated that the growth of Pittsburgh justified an expansion of his offer of 1881. A larger building combining reference and circulating libraries, art galleries, and meeting rooms for learned societies was needed, he said. Mr. Carnegie also suggested the need of branch libraries. To provide these buildings he offered to expend not less than $1 million, the City to bind itself to appropriate $40,000 annually for maintenance of the library system. The governing authority was to be a Board of Trustees of eighteen members, nine to be named by Mr. Carnegie and to constitute a self-perpetuating group; these nine to act ex-officio: the Mayor, the Presidents of Select and Common Councils, the President of the Central Board of Education, and five members of City Councils.

Mr. Carnegie's selection of trustees included many names which are prominent in the business and social history of Pittsburgh: Frew, Pitcairn, Frick, Mellon, Magee, and Porter, to mention a few.

The ordinance accepting this second offer of February 6, 1890, was passed May 31, 1890.

The Pittsburgh library was not, however, to become the first municipally owned and operated "Carnegie Library." That distinction went to the then independent City of Allegheny, now Pittsburgh's North Side. It was legally empowered to accept Mr. Carnegie's offer of May 29, 1886, at once, and work on the building began September 12, 1887. It was formally opened February 20, 1890, and was known as the Carnegie Free Library of Allegheny. Its cost was $300,000, and in March 14, 1901, alterations for an enlarged reference room were completed at an additional cost of $25,000.*

Older than both the Allegheny and Pittsburgh libraries was the Carnegie Free Library of Braddock, opened March 30, 1889. It was not a municipal library, however, but was endowed by Mr. Carnegie, and governed by a group of the officials of his steel company. It was transferred to the Braddock School District in 1961, to become its high school library.

The Select and Common Councils of the City were abolished in 1911, and were replaced by a single council of nine members. The Central Board of Education was also abolished in 1911. The Court of Common Pleas, April term, 1912, ruled that the President of City Council and the President of the Board of Directors of the School District of the City of Pittsburgh, were the public officials most nearly corresponding to those named by Mr. Carnegie in his deed of trust, and that they may properly sit as ex-officio members on the Boards of Trustees of Carnegie Library and Institute.



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The Original Building

General instructions concerning the site and requirements of the Central Building were formulated by the Building Committee of the Board, and 97 architects from all parts of the country responded to an invitation to submit plans. The plan of Longfellow, Alden & Harlow, architects of Boston and Pittsburgh was accepted.

Mr. Carnegie's offer of not less than $1 million was allocated by the Trustees: $300,000 for branches, and $700,000 for the Central building. Mr. Carnegie later gave an additional $100,000 for Central. Construction began in July, 1893. It was opened for use November 5, 1895.

There were various reasons for selecting the entrance to Schenley Park as the site: (1) the land was owned by the City; (2) it was the geographical center of the City (the present North Side was then the City of Allegheny); and (3) attractive surroundings, natural light and quiet were believed to be important to library service.

The building was monumental in appearance and was thought to be adequate in space and planning.

There were several serious omissions in the plan, however, which soon became apparent.

Carnegie Library was destined to become widely known for its services to children, but no services could have had a less auspicious beginning. So little thought was given to children as library users before 1895 that no provision was made for them. This failure was recognized at once and during the next dozen years part of the Periodical Room was utilized as a children's area. There was shelving for only 300 books, and the marble floor was the principal place to sit. It was not until the enlarged building was opened in 1907, that adequate space was available for children.

The urgent need of scientific and technical books was noted by the President of the Board of Trustees in his first annual report, yet no space had been provided for this specialized service. Until May 12, 1909, the Technology Department shared the limited space of the Reference Department. It then moved to the third floor of the enlarged building where it was greatly expanded in its present quarters.


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Carnegie Institute

At the dedication ceremonies Mr. Carnegie announced that he had determined to inaugurate a Department of Fine Arts and a Museum. For the administration of these new departments, Mr. Carnegie named a Board of eighteen members, who with the Library's eighteen-member board, were to be in charge. At its first meeting in 1896 the new Board chose the name "The Board of Trustees of the Carnegie Fine Arts and Museum Collection Fund." This was changed in 1898 to the simpler name of "Board of Trustees of Carnegie Institute."

Mr. Carnegie emphasized his belief that a public library can be successful only if it is maintained by public tax funds, but he called art galleries and museums "wise extravagances which a citizen may bestow upon a community and endow, so that it will cost the City nothing." He announced a gift of $1 million to endow the new departments.

In the original building the Art Gallery occupied the second floor wing in which the Music, Pennsylvania and Art Divisions are now housed. The Museum and its lecture hall also occupied the first floor wing now housing the Boys and Girls Department. The Music Hall was included in the the original building, but its foyer came with the enlargement.


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The Enlarged Building

Within two years after its opening, it became clear that the original building not only lacked space for important services, but that it was generally outgrown. In a letter, December 1, 1891, Mr. Carnegie offered to pay for an addition to house Carnegie Institute, and the foyer of the Music Hall. Costs were first place at $1,750,000, but later increased to $3,600,000 as more and more space was thought to be desirable. The final cost far exceeded this amount. Mr. Carnegie made $5 million available to the Trustees for the Institute portion alone, and he apparently paid some additional costs personally. Architects estimated that the cost of replacing the entire building in the 1960's would approximate $30 million.

Excavation for the enlargement began November 1, 1903, and contracts for the building were let in June, 1904.

By October, 1904, the work of the library was seriously affected by the building operations. The Children's and Periodical rooms were closed. The Lending Department was closed for several months. Reference, including Technology, was moved to a portion of the old art galleries, and Order and Catalogue operated on the stage of the Music Hall.

All of the original building, except the Music Hall, was given to the library. Of the changes and additions to the building, the present book stack was the Library's principal gain.

The building, much as it stands today, was opened with elaborate ceremonies April 11, 12 and 13, 1907.

The Library's first annual report, January 31, 1897, shows a staff of nineteen; a book collection of 27,000 volumes; a City appropriation of $65,000; and cash in hand for the erection of seven branch buildings. These figures seem paltry today, but this was 1895!


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Early Staff Members

Perhaps the caliber of the staff constituted the greatest assurance of successful development. Pittsburgh offered the advantages of a new and well financed public Library. Services and methods--the best which were known at that time--could be introduced, unfettered by outgrown policies and practices which were often a hindrance in old institutions.

These conditions attracted some of the nation's most promising librarians who accepted the challenge to give Pittsburgh the model public library of 1895.

The organizer of the Library and its first Librarian was Edwin H. Anderson, a graduate of Wabash College and the New York State Library School. He had had experience in the Newberry Library, Chicago, and as librarian of the Carnegie Library of Braddock, Pennsylvania.

The first printed list of the staff was published in the Annual Report for 1902, and contains the names of these librarians who later became nationally known in the profession.

William Richard Watson, Assistant Librarian
Eliza May Willard, Head, Reference Department
Harrison W. Craver, Head, Technology Department
Jessie Welles, Superintendent of Circulation
Frances Jenkins Olcott, Head, Children's Department

Within the next few years the following librarians joined the staff:

Margaret Mann, Head, Catalogue Department
E. H. McClelland, Asst., Technology Department
Alice I. Hazeltine, Supervisor, Children's Rooms
Elva S. Smith, Cataloguer, Children's Books
Franklin F. Hopper, Head, Order Department
Marie H. Law, Asst., Children's Department

Most of these librarians later went on to more conspicuous positions throughout the country. Mr. Anderson and Mr. Hopper became directors of the New York Public Library, and Mr. Craver was appointed director of the United Engineering Societies of New York. The only exceptions were Miss Smith and Mr. McClelland who remained to develop two of the Library's most prestigious departments--Boys and Girls, and Science and Technology.

Mr. Anderson and Mr. Craver later became president of the American Library Association.

These librarians and their associates set standards of service which have served as basic guidelines throughout the years.


* Histories of the Allegheny library appear in its annual reports of 1897 and 1930. Return to Text.

The First Decade, 1895-1904

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