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The Depression Years


The Great Depression is usually said to have begun with the collapse of the stock market on October 29, 1929. It affected the Library almost immediately by sending large numbers of the unemployed to it, but financial support from the city was not reduced until 1932, and not drastically until 1933. The appropriation for 1933 was 23 percent less than that of 1930, and it was not until 1945 that it exceeded that of 1930. There was a period of fifteen years of depression and World War II, during which the Library's objective could be little more than to minimize regression.

The unemployed came to Central and all branches in such numbers that reading rooms, normally not crowded until after school hours, were filled by mid-morning.

Circulation rose to 4,270,000 in 1932, an increase of fifty percent over 1929. It was not until 1963, seven years after the merger with Allegheny Library and the beginning of free borrowing privileges to county residents, that circulation at Central and branches reached the record of 1932. It then declined somewhat, but remained at or near the four million level until 1940.

Circulation			City Appropriation
1929 - 2,855,283		$556,500
1930 - 3,326,019		 595,700
1931 - 3,829,629		 595,700
1932 - 4,270,052		 540,357
1933 - 4,182,652		 460,050
1934 - 4,034,776		 458,061
1935 - 3,933,097		 479,375
1936 - 3,662,121		 479,375
1937 - 3,771,740		 525,550
1938 - 4,114,994		 550,178
1939 - 4,243,273		 571,958
1940 - 4,081,187		 574,688

Book Funds
Books of every class were in demand. Percentages of increased circulation between 1929 and 1934 were: 185 in science and technology; 110 in biography; 96 in travel; 84 in the fine arts; 41 in literature. There was an increase of 72 percent in adult non-fiction; 45 percent in adult fiction.

Use by boys and girls lacked the stimulus of unemployment. Circulation increased at the normal rate until 1933, when the closing of deposit stations, reduction of hours of opening in the branches, and severe cuts in the books funds brought losses. It was not intended that depression retrenchments bear more heavily upon services to children, but they did so.

During the years 1929 through 1933, funds for books and periodicals dropped from $99,297 to $77,725.

These policies in book purchases were made public:

  1. Book funds for the Reference and Technology departments have been maintained at normal strength, thus assuring continuous files of important journals, transactions, year books and other source materials, the lack of which would leave permanent gaps in the book collection.
  2. The number of periodicals has been reduced slightly, but no periodical has been dropped if it is included in any of the standard indexes.
  3. The funds of lending agencies have been severely cut, but as many new titles as possible will be purchased, though the number of copies of each will be reduced.
  4. The most drastic reduction is in the purchases of adult fiction. No more than one hundred new novels will be purchased annually.

It is obvious that the chief effort in book selection was to preserve the permanent value of the collection as a working library; to avoid gaps which would always remain to plague investigators.

Reduction in Staff
The staff bore a heavy burden during the depression, not so much in the loss of salary, but in the load of work which they were forced to carry. The only reduction in salaries came in 1933 with a cut of ten percent which was mild when compared with the far deeper cuts which were common in industry. Because of the low salary scale of that time however, ten percent cut brought the least experienced professionals down to $110 per month. A few of the very youngest were dismissed, and some others placed on part-time. A minimum annual salary of $1,200, established in 1936, aided pages, clerks and some others. Full restoration of pre-depression salaries was extended to all professionals in 1937.

The staff was reduced from a full-time equivalent of 285 in 1930 to 232 in 1933. To compensate for this reduction, Hazelwood, Mt. Washington, Knoxville and West End branches were placed on half-time schedules, one staff covering two branches, each of which was open on alternate days. This arrangement was most unsatisfactory. Adults adjusted their library visits to some extent, but school children with lessons to prepare each day were handicapped. Concentrating services within three days brought crowds which were hardly manageable; every hour became a rush hour, leaving no slack periods for behind-the-scenes routine work. The plan had to be continued throughout 1933 and 1934. A slight increase in the appropriation for 1935 permitted the separation of these branches, each with its own staff, and hours of opening which included five afternoons and three evenings each week.

The larger neighborhood branches were at first closed at one o'clock on Friday afternoons, then all day Fridays. The purpose was, of course, to have all staff days-off come at the same time and thus assure a complete staff when the Library was open. For the same reason, staff dinner hours were concentrated by closing branches from six to seven o'clock each evening.

Deposit stations, both adult and juvenile, were closed, and Sunday afternoon opening of the Central Lending Department and the Wylie Avenue Branch, begun in 1929, was discontinued in 1932.

Adoption of the Detroit charging system at Central in 1930, South Side Branch in 1931, and later at all branches, greatly reduced the lines of borrowers at charging desks. It was believed that this was the greatest single factor in enabling the Library to handle the crowds without intolerable delays and confusion. Borrowers objected at first, but soon recognized that it saved them from waiting in long lines.

Quality of Service
The quality of service was inevitably lowered during the depression years. As stated in the Annual Report, 1932: "In normal times the professional staff in the Lending Department and the branches has given a great deal of time in consulting with readers on the choice of books. Now there is little time for such conferences and the branches particularly, are becoming book distribution centers only. The librarians can do little more than make a frantic effort to keep pace with the necessary routine of lending books, and readers are left too much to shift for themselves."

Staff Morale
Staff morale remained high throughout the depression. As stated in the Annual Report, 1933: "Salaries have been cut, many have been placed on part-time, and the pressure of work has been greatly increased, yet the morale of the staff appears not to have been lowered at all. This does not mean that librarians find a morbid joy in suffering, or that present conditions can continue indefinitely. It simply means that staff members recognized that an emergency existed in which they could be helpful, and they took pride in meeting it without much thought of themselves."

To break the tedium of constant desk work, and to give new experiences, junior staff members replaced their department heads and branch librarians once each month at the weekly business and book selection meetings. Their decisions were subject to review, but they were made with such care and judgment that they would have brought credit to a more experienced group.

Some Progress
Progress was not completely halted during the depression years, as some projects had been financed earlier, and others required little money.

Brookline and Carrick were two of the City's largest areas which had no branch library. The budget for 1930 provided for a rented store building type of branch in each community. To reduce operating costs, each branch was open on alternate days with the same staff caring for both, a plan which later became infeasible. Brookline was destined to make two moves to larger quarters; Carrick, in a former moving picture theater, has had adequate space.

The Business-District Branch had occupied small quarters in the City-County Building since 1924 where it attempted to give both general and business service. The space was preempted by the City Controller in 1930. There were many vacancies in office buildings at that time, and the Union Trust Building management agreed to give space for a business branch as a service to its tenants and other business concerns. The Library paid only a nominal rent to cover the cost of light and janitor service. General literature was removed from the collection, and the branch served business interests only.

Art (Reference) Division
The Art Reference Division was established May 19, 1930, in the room which now houses the Pennsylvania Division. The book collection was strong, especially in architecture and design, due to purchases from the income from the J. D. Bernd Fund of $17,000 given to the Library in 1895. The budget for 1931 provided for a full-time division head, for which Marion Comings, experienced in art libraries in Chicago and Cleveland, was engaged. The Division soon outgrew its space, and was moved to its present room in 1931. The word "Reference" was dropped from its title in 1938, the Library's lending collection on art was added, and it became a true subject division. Miss Comings remained until 1946, when she was replaced by Catherine Hay, formerly art supervisor in the Sewickley Public Schools and graduate of Carnegie Library School.

The Division's collections have been greatly enriched by several notable gifts:

  1. The Art Reference set, compiled for and given by the Carnegie Corporation, about 1930, included 200 books and 2,000 reproductions of famous art objects.
  2. The Carnegie Corporation's set of 2,500 colored slides depicting "Arts in the United States," was purchased for the Library by the Pittsburgh Foundation in 1961.
  3. The Fashion group of Pittsburgh gave the net receipts from its fashion shows to the Division for the purchase of books on costumes and fashion. From 1948 to 1958, $4,959 was received.
  4. The Pittsburgh Chapter, American Institute of Designers gave $1,500 between 1957 and 1960 for the purchase of books on interior decoration.
  5. The complete records and documents of the "Western Pennsylvania Architectural Survey" were given by the Buhl Foundation and The Pittsburgh Chapter, American Institute of Architects in 1937. These are the source materials from which Charles M. Stotz wrote his "Early Architecture of Western Pennsylvania."
  6. Mrs. C. L. Snowdon, Jr., volunteered in 1962 to assemble a collection of colored slides covering animal life, sculpture, travel, European and Asian Art and many other subjects. By the end of 1968, there were 56,000 slides, most of them classified by subject and indexed. 37,000 of them were lent during 1968.

The Division's regular picture collection contained an estimated 250,000 prints in 1969, most of them clipped from books and magazines.

Readers' Counselor
Adult education was the principal battle-cry of the American Library Association and individual public libraries during this period. Many libraries had designated a staff member as their "readers' advisor." This Library had no suitable person who could be spared and it was decided to seek funds from the outside. To interest a foundation, some new element had to be introduced to give the project an experimental aspect. The element chosen was the use of an experienced educator instead of a librarian--someone who could be offered to the public as a former college professor. The Buhl Foundation made a grant of $21,000 for a three-year experiment.

Charles W. Mason, who had been associated with West Virginia University and the University of Buffalo, began his service as Reader's Counselor in March, 1931. Mr. Mason was excellent in initiating the work, but after it became established he tired of the daily routine of meeting readers and resigned in 1938. No attempt was made to secure another college professor, and the work was placed in charge of Enid McP. Boli, an exceptionally well-read staff member.

Miss Boli retired in 1956 and was succeeded by Kate Kolish who had been in charge of the Public Affairs Room. Miss Kolish had earned her doctorate in philosophy at the University of Vienna, and her library degree at Carnegie Library School.

Under Miss Kolish, the counseling of individual readers was continued, but the emphasis in her activity was shifted to groups. The name of her office was changed to Special Adult Services.

Miss Kolish initiated the Program Services Institute which attracted 666 persons, representing 281 women's clubs and other organizations, to the first session in the Music Hall, February 29, 1956. Seventeen federations of women's clubs and other City-wide groups joined the Library as co-sponsors. Steering and planning committees, drawn from these groups, formulated the program and helped secure speakers. Programs have featured programming, leadership and club publicity.

The Institute has been repeated periodically, the seventh in 1969, and has drawn an attendance of 700 to 900 persons.

"Resources for Program Planners," listing local sources of speakers, films and printed materials, was prepared by Ann MacPherson, a retired branch librarian, for distribution at the first Institute. It has been kept up-to-date by the Library's Director of Public Relations.

Mr. Mason's detailed reports, covering the establishment of the service, and his formation of the Pittsburgh Council on Adult Education, are found in the Library's Annual Reports, 1931-1934.

The correlation between business conditions and the demand for library services has been noted by every librarian whose experience includes several recessions. Unemployment and use of the library reached their peaks in 1932, and began a slow--painfully slow--decline.

There was still need of retrenchments to match the volume of work with the reduced staff. Minor changes made in 1937 included (1) limiting telephone renewals to before 5 p.m., (2) limiting the number of free temporary cards to three, after which a charge of 25 cents was made, and (3) charging 25 cents for the replacement of a borrower's card. These restrictions were aimed at careless borrowers and they made a substantial saving in time.

Among Our Books, The Enchanted Door, and The School Bulletin were discontinued in 1934 to save the time of compilation and printing costs.

October 30, 1935, saw the beginning of the Library's project under the Works Progress Administration (W. P. A.), when 53 workers appeared. No librarians were available, but a group of former teachers, stenographers, and office workers was obtained. Some were assigned to Library clerical work, but most of them worked on special projects including mounting pictures, repairing books, and cleaning catalogue cards by the less capable, and indexing and compiling bibliographies by the better educated. The making of the Union List of Books on Pennsylvania History available in the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, the University of Pittsburgh Library and Carnegie Library was one of the more significant undertakings.

A separate Art Project, administered by the Department of Fine Arts of Carnegie Institute, assigned local artists to paint appropriate murals for the Boys and Girls rooms at two branches. Marcella Comes painted the one at Homewood and Mary Shaw Mahronic at East Liberty.

W. P. A. projects administered by the Buildings Department, were conspicuous at Central and branches in restoring the structural life of the buildings, improving their appearance, and providing new equipment and facilities.

The latter depression years were destructive in two instances. A fire at the Wylie Avenue Branch, February 12, 1934, resulted in the death of the custodian who was apparently asleep in his living quarters. The upper floor and the roof were severely damaged, but there was little loss on the main floor.

St. Patrick's Day Flood, 1936
St. Patrick's Day, 1936, will long be remembered in Pittsburgh because of its disastrous flood. Nearly eight feet of water entered the Penn Avenue Branch, a rented structure at Twenty-eighth Street and Penn Avenue. Every book stack collapsed and when the water subsided it left a mass of soggy books, ruined records and mud. Backwater from the sewers caused a menace to health, and it was decided to destroy all books and abandon the branch. A room in the O'Hara School was secured from which the district was served.

Water rose twenty-one inches on the main floor of the West End Branch, but quick work by the custodian saved all books and records. Books, periodicals and supplies which were stored in the basement were destroyed.

Only these two branches were flooded, but in many parts of the city books which had been borrowed by readers were lost when their homes were flooded. No effort was made to collect the cost of these books.

This Library received $10,132.65 as its share of a special appropriation for $100,000 made by the General Assembly for relief of flooded libraries.

Library services in all agencies were interrupted because of the lack of heat, light or water. Two days were lost at Central; two weeks at West End.

Music Division
The Music Division was established in 1938. The Library's music collection had been housed in the Lending Department and had not been highly developed, although Pittsburgh's musical interests were expanding. Miss Irene Millen, a staff member who was well known in musical circles was placed in charge.

The Music Division has perhaps received more wide-spread public interest and support than any other part of the Library. A group of local musicians formed the Boyd Memorial Musicological Library Association, and secured funds to purchase the private library of the late Charles N. Boyd for the Division. Members of this group also formed the David H. Light Memorial Record Library in 1943, which by 1968 had accumulated an endowment of $12,525. The Boyd Association and the David H. Light Association merged in 1949 to form the Friends of the Music Library which arranges an annual concert which keeps the work of the Division fresh in the minds of musicians, and brings a substantial gift to the Division.

The music collection now contains many notable items, and has sufficient strength to support research in many phases of musicology.

The Library received an unexpected bequest from the late Edward C. Bald, Jr., a local composer, in 1954. It came without any instructions as to its use, but it was known that Mr. Bald's only library interest was in this division. It was therefore decided that the income from the fund should go to the Music Division. The fund amounted to $115,307 in 1968.

Pennsylvania Division
Materials relating to Pennsylvania and Genealogy were segregated in separate rooms of the Reference Department in 1928. The collection became the Pennsylvania Division in 1939, under the guidance of Miss Rose Demorest, a long-time reference librarian and student of local history. At first this Division was used chiefly by older persons, genealogists and historians. Public School curricula was later broadened to include local governmental activities, and the Division now attracts a variegated clientele.

The preparation of publications and displays for Pittsburgh's bi-centennial celebration in 1958 brought realization that there was no comprehensive collection of pictures of the City's past and present. The Library's Pittsburgh Photographic Library, administered by the Pennsylvania Division, endeavors to fill this gap.

The 18,000 prints collected by the Pittsburgh Photographic Library, established but later abandoned by the University of Pittsburgh, were given to this Library. They cover the period of 1949 through 1953 only.

The 1500 pictures which appeared in the Post-Gazette's Pittsburgh Album cover the entire period of Pittsburgh's history.

In the preparation of his pictorial history of Pittsburgh, Stephan Lorant gathered pictures from any sources. He gave 8,000 of these to the Library.

The Photographic Library now contains about 30,000 prints from all sources, most of them indexed, some annotated, and all quickly available.

The Division has continued to grow under the guidance of Dorothy English (1958-1963) and Mrs. Julia Cunningham (1963- ).

Gillespie Room
The Gillespie Reading Room was opened November 10, 1938, and is believed to be the first "browsing room" in a large city library. It contained about four thousand carefully selected books in the humanities. Furnishings, books, and a generous endowment for maintenance were given by Mrs. David Lindsay Gillespie and her daughter Mabel Lindsay Gillespie in memory of David Lindsay Gillespie. It is believed that the initial contact with the Gillespies came through Walter I. Bullock, then Head of the Adult Learning Department and a friend of the Gillespie family.

By 1938 the character of public demand had changed. Fewer readers wanted "a good book to read," and more of them asked for books on specific subjects. The specialization of subject matter with the consequent increase in printed materials, brought the librarian back to his true function of selecting materials and advising readers.

The Nineteen-Forties

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