"The vitality of a university is to
A large degree dependent on
The caliber of its library."
With that statement, Chancellor Edward H. Litchfield closed his letters to various potential donors in the hopes that they would fund the University of Pittsburgh’s first standalone, centralized library. The significance of the library to the University was not lost on one Pitt trustee, Henry L. Hillman, who arranged for the Hillman family and Hillman Foundation to donate the property and a significant portion of the funds necessary to construct the new building, which would be named for his father, John Hartwell Hillman, Jr.
Planning and construction of Hillman Library took the better part of a decade. Designers of the structure were Celli-Flynn, of McKeesport, coordinating architects; Kuhn, Newcomer and Valentour, of Mount Lebanon, associated architects; and Dolores Miller and Associates, Ltd., of Chicago, interior design consultants.
The Hillman’s donation was announced in 1960 followed by the groundbreaking ceremony, which took place on June 1, 1964. The official dedication of the library was then held on September 6, 1968; however, the library had already opened to students on January 8, 1968, while the finishing touches were completed to the building and the remaining staff and collections were transferred to the library from the Cathedral of Learning.
“The new Hillman Library building, a handsome five-story limestone structure, has helped to create a new image for the Library and serves today as a focal point for community as well as campus identification of library service.” – C. Walter Stone, Library Director
Hillman Library quickly gained a reputation among students as a bright, clean place to study. Until the summer of 1970, the upper floors were also a great place to watch the Pittsburgh Pirates play baseball games in Forbes Field, which was literally next door to the library. Striving to make the library attractive to students and faculty, artwork by Pitt faculty member Virgil Cantini and others was acquired through the Hillman Library Fund. Additional pieces were borrowed from the nearby Carnegie Museum of Art. Adding to the sense of culture and in support of the University’s increasingly international focus, library collections concentrating on Eastern European, Jewish, African American, Latin American and East Asian studies were all meticulously developed.
In addition to the library collections, technology within Hillman Library has been in a constant state of expansion and improvement. Even during its first year of operation, additional electrical wiring was installed in the library to accommodate up and coming computer and communication advancements. In 1986, a gift from the Hillman Foundation allowed for minor renovations to be completed including the installation of flat computer cabling, new carpeting, refurbished furniture, and compact shelving. That same year PittCat, the new online catalog, replaced the card catalog as the best means of locating books in the library. In recent years the personal computers in the library’s labs have given way, for the most part, to student’s laptops and cell phones, redirecting the demand for more computers to the need for more electrical outlets in which to charge their devices.
In the past decade, spaces within Hillman Library have evolved to incorporate developing academic library trends. Technology-enabled and group study spaces have sprung up throughout the building. A Digital Scholarship Commons was created to provide a workspace for digital humanities projects, as well as digitization services, workshops and instruction. To accommodate the shifting focus of the library from collections to serving people, many of the collections have been transferred to the off-site Library Resource Facility.
The story of Hillman Library’s first fifty years is a story of change, but also of underlying consistency. The photos in this exhibit depict various library activities, some showing scenes from long ago, but all containing familiar elements of today’s Hillman. As we look back and celebrate the last half century, we are excited to see what the next 50 years will bring for Hillman Library.
About the exhibit
These photos are also part of a physical exhibit that is available to view at Hillman Library on the ground floor in the main hallway. The prints should be available to view from now until the towards the end of the 2018 spring semester.