The Downtown branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is among the busiest in the system, averaging more than 1,000 visitors a day.
By Bill O’Driscoll for 90.5 WESA
January 28, 2020
The Downtown branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is among the busiest in the system, averaging more than 1,000 visitors a day. That’s not surprising, considering that the Golden Triangle hosts tens of thousands of workers daily. Now, upward trends in Downtown housing have pushed the branch past the capacity of the space on Smithfield Street it’s occupied since 2004.
The branch is embarking on a $6 million expansion that will close it for most of a year starting Feb. 9. The renovation will grow the library by nearly 70 percent, to 21,390 square feet.
One goal is to increase services for young people, said Holly Anderton, library-services manager for the branch. She notes that Downtown is also home to four high schools and a K-6 charter school.
“We … want to add services for children and teens, so when we’re open, they’re going to have their own dedicated spaces in our renovated branch,” she said.
The renovation is part of the library’s new lease with McKnight Realty Partners, in the big building that also houses Brooks Brothers clothing. The branch’s footprint will also change. Instead of occupying a first-floor space and the basement, the branch will be a first-and-second-floor affair, with its elevator relocated and a new staircase to the second level, say Anderton.
The stacks will remain on the first floor, while the second floor will be more open, with “great light, great windows and more space for kids, teens and adults,” she said.
In addition, the upstairs will include “three or four small meeting rooms, so if you need to do a Skype interview for a job, or you’re tutoring somebody you’ll be able to use those rooms.” There will also be space for digital-literacy classes. Most of the branch’s business-services function will remain, as will help for job-seekers.
The building’s façade will not look much different, Anderton said, although windows on the second floor will be expanded, and plans call for reconfiguring the street-level entryway (whose door currently opens directly into the path of unwary pedestrians).
During the 11 months or so the branch is closed, patrons will have a few options. For those who just need to briefly use one of the three computers, or pick up or drop off a book ordered from another branch, the library is creating a small “pop-up” branch. It will sit right across Smithfield, in part of the cavernous, long-empty space that formerly housed Barnes & Noble and Staples. The branch will be open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, and also include a “small browsing collection” of books, primarily best-sellers, said Anderton.
The permanent library branches nearest Downtown include the Allegheny branch, on the North Side, and the Hill District branch. Both are about 1.3 miles away.
The Carnegie Library has had a branch Downtown for nearly a century. Anderton said the first was installed in the City-County Building, in 1924. Prior to the current location, the branch most recently occupied a former bank on Wood Street that was purchased by Point Park University.
The busiest Carnegie Library branch today is the main branch, in Oakland, and the second busiest is in Squirrel Hill, said Anderton. The Downtown outpost ranks on the next tier of the most-trafficked, alongside East Liberty and Allegheny.
The renovation is being funded partly with a $500,000 grant from the state’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program. Anderton said the library is in the midst of a capital campaign to complete financing.