This history of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is, in the broadest sense, a history of the larger public libraries of the United States during the twentieth century. It is a history of growth and the development of special services.
Starting with only a Central Library in 1895, Carnegie has grown over the years into a system comprising Central, regional and neighborhood branches, and bookmobiles, all in an effort to bring library services close to the people.
Its area of service has been extended from part of the city of Pittsburgh to the entire city; to a limited extent to Allegheny County; and in some fields to part or all of Pennsylvania.
The Library has sought to know its community, to be alert to its needs, and to respond to those needs as fully as its resources would permit. It was, for example, the first municipal library to establish a science and technology department (1902); it is believed to have been the first public library to organize a centrally administered children's department in Central and branches (1899); it established the first training agency for children's librarians--Carnegie Library School (1901).
More recently, it has responded to local needs with specialized subject divisions at Central; with its Downtown and Business branches; with special services to teen-agers, and in cooperation with the Board of Public Education, in establishing a highly developed system of school libraries; and in providing a book van to give saturation coverage to disadvantaged children and young people in the poorest sections of the city.
Some public libraries have given major attention to informal classes, lectures, forums and other group activities. In Pittsburgh, Carnegie Institute and other neighboring agencies offer these activities. Carnegie Library has, therefore, chosen to follow more closely the principles of "pure librarianship" in developing its staff, collections and facilities with the aim of giving superior book and information services to individuals.
Progress has not been constant. It was slowed by two world wars, almost halted by the depression of the nineteen-thirties, and retarded by several recessions and local financial crises.
Prior to 1956, Carnegie was strictly a municipal library with support from the City of Pittsburgh only. It has since received annual appropriations from the County of Allegheny, and gives free service to all County residents. Under the State Library Code of 1961, it was designated a District Library Center and a Resource Center, and receives state subsidies for making loans of books and giving advisory services to libraries in wider areas. Throughout the years it has received generous consideration from local foundations, professional associations and individuals.
The successful development of Carnegie Library was assured from the outset by the caliber of its staff. 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 older institutions. These conditions attracted some of the country's most progressive librarians who accepted the challenge to give Pittsburgh the model public library of 1895. These early librarians set standards of service which have served as basic guidelines throughout the years. Their successors have been equally dedicated and well prepared to recognize new or changing needs, and provide services to meet them.
With its extended areas of service, greater responsibilities, expanded resources, and the current social and economic changes, the next seventy-five years will, no doubt, see the introduction of additional services and alterations in established ones.