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Recovery and Expansion - 1950

The decade opened with a survey of library services in Allegheny County made under the sponsorship of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development by Walter T. Brahm and Mildred Sandoe of the Ohio State Library, and published in September, 1950.

They found that only a few communities outside of Pittsburgh had passably good service, and that 56 percent of the county residents had no local library facilities.

The principal recommendation was that there be two library systems (1) the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh to serve the City and, by contract with the County, to supply county-wide reference and specialized services, and (2) that a county library system, to be financed and governed by the county commissioners, be developed over a three year period. These separate systems were proposed because the surveyors assumed that legal obstacles would prevent Carnegie Library from becoming the operating center of a County system. Eventually, they said, legal questions should be cleared, and a single system instituted.

There were many minor recommendations. A copy of the survey, and a summary by Marie A. Davis, are filed in the Director's Office.

No effort was made to establish a separate county library, but the publicity given to the needs of county residents no doubt played a part in preparing the way for the extension of Carnegie Library services into the county in 1956.

Metropolitan Study Commission Report, 1955
The Metropolitan Study Commission was created by the Pennsylvania General Assembly in May, 1951, "to promote the uniform development of Allegheny County." Its fourteen members were appointed by Governor John S. Fine from nominations by the County's civic, business, labor and governmental organizations. The Director of Carnegie Library was called by the Commission for advice on public libraries.

Its report was published June 27, 1955, and covered every phase of governmental action.

In regard to libraries it recommended: "That a county library system be established with the Carnegie Library as its nucleus and including the existing libraries whose governing boards elect to join."

I found the Commission determined to centralize all possible activities under the County government. I therefore, confined my advice to insistence that Carnegie Library be the nucleus of a county system. --Ralph Munn.

The officials of most of the County's boroughs and townships joined in condemning the Commission's proposals, claiming that they were the first step toward absorption of local governments by Pittsburgh. The word "metropolitan" has remained a "dirty word" to this day.

Finances - The Wage Tax
For the first time, the City appropriation topped one million dollars when it reached $1,070,000 in 1951, and advanced to $1,317,000 in 1954. Similar increases throughout the City government brought a proposal for a wage tax. The newspapers made searching investigations of City expenditures in which it was shown that library costs had doubled between 1946 and 1954.

Staff committees made intensive searches for uneconomical routines and practices. The manager of the General Bookbinding Co., Cleveland, had been engaged in 1951 to make a study of the Bindery, and the machines which he recommended had been purchased to replace hand work. Janet S. Dickson, Head Cataloguer at Penn State University, was commissioned to study cataloguing practices, but found little to change.

The bookmobile, a gift to the Library, was the only significant service which had been added, and the cost of its operation was moderate. All other increased costs were due to the inflation which followed World War II. Book and periodical costs had risen by 81 percent; staff salaries by 114 percent; building maintenance (70 percent salaries) by 99 percent.

Library services which cost $1,317,000 in 1954 were almost identical with those which cost $653,000 in 1946.

Passage of the wage tax eased the City's financial troubles, and the City appropriation reached $1,935,000 in 1962.

Business Branch to Frick Building
The Business Branch had occupied quarters in the Union Trust Building since 1930, without a lease and at a nominal rent. It lost this space in August, 1950, and moved to part of the Reference Department. Telephone calls were encouraged, but use dropped precipitately showing that business service cannot be successful when operated at a distance from the business district. After a trial of eighteen months at Central, City Council provided for downtown rent, and space was obtained in the Frick Building early in 1952.

B & G Room Modernization
Forty years were erased from the appearance of the Boys and Girls Department through a face-lifting operation in 1951. The skillful covering of dark and worn woodwork with strips of blond wood, the removal of dark finishes, the use of colorful micarta table tops, and a daring array of wall colors accounted for most of the change.

It was a trustee, William R. Oliver, who initiated the project and secured the services of Mildred Schmertz, an interior decorator. He also made the first contact with The Pittsburgh Foundation which drew upon its Wherrett Memorial Fund for $8,382 to cover costs.

Circulating Books to Technology
Until 1951, the Technology Department had served reference and research needs only. Books available for loan were kept in the main floor Lending Department. The Technology Department staff strongly resisted plans to combine the two collections, in the belief that the demands of housewives and students for the more popular books would seriously interfere with the staff's more scholarly pursuits. To some extent, this was doubtless true, but it was finally decided that the Library should no longer require borrowers to deal with the Lending Department staff who had no especial competency in science and technology, while the Technology Department Staff was chosen expressly for their knowledge of these fields. Shelving for 5,500 circulation books was installed in the Technology Department.

Sunday afternoon opening of the Lending Department began in 1951, partly to relieve the over-crowding of the Reference rooms.

Fluorescent lighting replaced old-fashioned table lights in the Reference Room in 1953, when H. J. Heinz II gave $5,000 to be spent where most needed.

Central Charging Desk
A great step toward efficiency and security was made when five separate charging desks, scattered throughout the Library, were eliminated in 1953, and replaced by a Central charging booth at the main exit. Photographic charging was introduced at this time. The cost of this change was met by a grant of $5,000 from the Pitcairn-Crabbe Foundation.

First Bookmobile
Pittsburgh's first bookmobile, a gift of Wherrett Memorial Fund of the Pittsburgh Foundation, began operations September 4, 1952. It lent 83,075 books, of which nearly 51,000 were for adults, during its first full year. Its cost, fully equipped, was $16,200. This bookmobile was replaced with funds made available by the Foundation in 1968.

Adult Services Survey
A major study of the Library's adult services by a staff committee headed by Adaline Bernstein was completed in 1954. It stated that the Library's chief objective should continue to be that of providing books and information services to individuals. "The Library should cooperate with all adult education agencies and provide materials for institutes, discussion groups, lectures and similar activities. As a general policy, however, the Library should not organize or initiate discussion groups or similar activities on a large scale." This finding was based partly upon the fact that Carnegie Institute and neighboring agencies maintain a wide variety of lectures, forums, hobby classes and similar group activities. The chief exception to this policy came in 1950-54 when the Library joined the Foreign Policy Association in holding discussion groups on foreign affairs at Central and several branches. They attracted a creditable number of participants, but did not increase the reading of books perceptibly.

A continuing public occasion is the Fall Festival of Children's Books held each year. It attracts capacity crowds to the Lecture Hall for programs arranged by Virginia Chase, head of the Boys and Girls Department. Children's book authors and editors are the principal speakers. Story-telling is also featured with Mrs. Paul M. Offill, Mrs. Earl M. Gulbranson, Mrs. Fletcher Hodges, Elizabeth Nesbitt and others telling epic stories.

Merger of Allegheny and Pittsburgh Libraries
Two of the most far-reaching projects ever advocated by this Library emerged from nearly thirty years of discussion to become facts.

A single city-wide library system was at last achieved October 19, 1956, with court approval of the City of Pittsburgh's petition that the Carnegie Free Library of Allegheny and its Woods Run Branch be made a part of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

The former City of Allegheny had been annexed and became Pittsburgh's North Side in 1907, but for a variety of reasons its library remained a separate and independent one, governed by a committee of City Council.

For a great many years the residents of the North Side had received library services which were markedly inferior to those in the rest of the City. The directorship was regarded as a sinecure to be filled on the basis of political preferment. Professional leadership was completely lacking, and the morale of the apprentice-trained staff had reached the vanishing point.

Several staff members resigned after the merger, but most of them remained and responded to the leadership of Anthony A. Martin, a Carnegie Library School graduate and an experienced member of this Library's staff. He was aided in the reorganization of the Allegheny library by department heads and specialists from this Library.

The Buhl Foundation made a grant of $36,000 with which the 1890 vintage furniture was replaced.

Within the next few years circulation rose from 144,000 to 280,000.

The maintenance of the North Side buildings remained with the City of Pittsburgh's Department of Lands and Buildings. The Trustees of this Library declined to assume this responsibility because of the huge sums of money which would be required to rehabilitate the sixty-six year old Allegheny buildings, and to erect a new Woods Run Branch.

Final credit for giving Pittsburgh a unified library service belongs to the late Mayor David L. Lawrence, the first mayor who was willing to give up the political advantage of keeping Allegheny a separate institution.

County Service
Several times over a period of thirty years various civic organizations had promoted the idea of a county-wide library system. The failure of these efforts is believed to have been due chiefly to these causes: (1) they were "do good" movements which arose within the City of Pittsburgh, and (2) most of the suburbs of those days had existed for many years, and the residents had become accustomed to being without libraries or to such service as could be given by a small local library.

The post-war march to the suburbs brought great growth to the older suburbs, and the creation of many new ones. These new suburban residents were largely former city dwellers who were accustomed to comprehensive library services, and they missed them in their new homes.

Voluntary committees, usually with members of the P. T. A. and women's groups as leaders, were formed to promote library services in many communities. These committees later joined forces in the Library Planning Committee of Allegheny County. This was the grass-roots organization which brought representatives of 22 municipalities to a hearing held by the County Commissioners in November, 1955.

The Commissioners very readily agreed to make a start toward county services, and requested the Director of Carnegie Library to suggest appropriate first steps. These steps were approved by the Commissioners in March, 1956, when they made $225,000 available for the first year.

The initial steps were:

  1. Free borrowing privileges in Carnegie Library and its branches be extended to all County residents.
  2. Independent public libraries in the county to be enabled to borrow unusual and specialized books from Carnegie Library for the use of their own readers.
  3. Bookmobiles to be operated in selected areas which have no public libraries.

The initial steps became effective June 1, 1956, although the first bookmobile did not begin to operate until January 22, 1957. The second bookmobile was added February 22, 1958; the third, June 16, 1967.

Kenneth E. Brown, experienced in county service in West Virginia, was engaged to supervise county activities, especially bookmobile operations.

Thus in a single year, two epochal projects became effective, almost without opposition, after about thirty years of fruitless efforts. One is tempted to believe that timing can be more important than the merits of a proposal.

Detailed and documented histories of these two projects--unified services within Pittsburgh and extension into the County--are on file in the Director's Office.

Expansion into Allegheny County entailed such a decided increase in administrative duties that it was thought necessary to appoint an Assistant Director, an office which had not been filled since 1903. Keith Doms was brought from Midland, Michigan, to be Assistant--later, Associate--Director, August 1, 1956.

Business and Downtown Branches to Kaufmann Annex
The opening of the Library's Downtown agencies to the free use of county residents brought such an influx of new users that in 1957 it became impossible for these agencies to operate successfully in their old quarters.

Sufficient space was found on the ground floor of Kaufmann's Service Annex to house both the Business and the Downtown Branches. Although housed together, the two branches occupied distinct areas and were separately administered. The County paid 40 percent of the rent.

Martin Survey
Dr. Lowell Martin, acting for the State Library, made an exhaustive survey of Pennsylvania's library services in 1958, which later became the basis for the present plan of district and regional resource libraries, with state aid. His report included this statement:

"The two great city libraries in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have made steady progress. Each is developing local service through its territory, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh actually going out into Allegheny County. Both have built up basic services for information and reference, and for children and young people. Each has special subject strength, with special subject librarians. They have become library centers of significance beyond their City borders, both for readers who come into the Central facilities, and to the librarians who look to the large institutions for leadership."

"It would be a mistake to think of these two city libraries as 'superior' or consistently 'outstanding.' In both cases, local neighborhood service within their own boundaries has gaps and weaknesses. Uneven development is evident in their special subject resources. While both have done wonders with monumental and poorly located main buildings, building problems remain in each case.... The $1.52 per capita support in Philadelphia, and $2.35 in Pittsburgh fall definitely below the $4.24 figure of such a library as that in Boston. These institutions should be built up, not just for their own cities, but also for the contribution they can make to state-wide library facilities."

The Library for the Blind had operated from several upper levels of Central's book stack until 1959 when it was moved to the Allegheny Regional Branch. The new quarters were an improvement in every way.

The Sheraden Avenue Branch, housed for many years in the basement of the Allendale School, was given larger and more attractive quarters in the new school building which replaced the old one during 1959.

Community Events Calendar
A potentially useful service, begun in 1958 was abandoned the next year. The Community Events Calendar was intended to reduce the number of public events which are held at the same time. Organizations were asked to consult the calendar before scheduling an event, but they could not be persuaded to do so, in spite of all the publicity which the Library could secure. Churches and neighborhood groups could be depended upon to list bingo parties and rummage sales, but important city-wide organizations failed to list their meetings. After several such failures, it was decided that the Calendar was a source of actual harm to the Library. The Calendar had been established at the request of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and the Chamber of Commerce. It was financed by a grant of $5,000 from the Wherrett Memorial Fund of the Pittsburgh Foundation.

The Craig Papers
Manuscripts, a few incunabula and other rarities have come to the Library as gifts, but its book funds have been spent almost entirely for materials which Pittsburghers need in their daily lives and work.

The Craig Papers constitute the Library's largest collection of manuscripts--77 account books, and 4,717 letters and other papers--reflecting the activities of Major Isaac Craig, military storekeeper of the supply base established in Pittsburgh to provision the troops engaged in the Indian wars. Most of the papers are dated from 1791 to 1806.

The Papers belonged to Theodore C. Diller, George Ellmaker Diller and Mrs. Winifred Diller Mann, and were deposited here in 1911 as an indefinite loan by their father, Dr. Theodore Diller. The owners joined in a deed of gift to the Library in 1957.

With a grant of $11,000 from the Pittsburgh Foundation, John W. Harpster, a local historian and archivist, was engaged to arrange and index the Papers. This work was completed in September, 1963. The Papers have been microfilmed, and these copies are used except when historians feel that they must see the originals.

The Nineteen-Sixties

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