Just a Library? I Think Not…

“A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never failing spring in the desert.” -Andrew Carnegie

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is a staple of the city. Providing thousands with access to books and digital media, the library system has surely established itself as an imperative part of the city.

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is a fun and interactive place right in the middle of Oakland. The building, over the years, has developed a strong history behind it making it into the one of largest functioning Carnegie libraries that is now connected to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. This library is one of many that has been funded by Andrew Carnegie’s steel empire. This philanthropist sought to create “rags-to-riches” stories for the residents of Pittsburgh, similar to his own story as the son of immigrants. There are many satellite branches of Carnegie’s library system all around the world, however nineteen of them rest within Pittsburgh’s city limits. The main branch, the original Carnegie Library, sits on Forbes Avenue, right in the crossroads of Carnegie Mellon University and The University of Pittsburgh.

The library houses a wide array of books, spanning every genre one could imagine. There are computers programmed with databases for research. There are programs to locate books in their endless stacks on all the floors of the library. In the children’s section, the computers are even equipped with games that encourage learning and the development of basic educational skills, such as reading and comprehension. If one wanted to, they could truly turn a trip to the library into a day-long family affair.

The Carnegie Library also services the college students looking to escape the Hillman Library, the University of Pittsburgh’s library position just across Schenley Plaza. While the campus library is an excellent resource for students, some students may feel limited or over-crowded in the four floors that seem to always be full with classmates who are frantically studying. The Carnegie Library is often very quiet, with many tucked-away nooks built in to its floor plan, making it a study- or relaxation-conducive environment.

If that isn’t enough to sell you (on a free service!), then maybe the extensive classes they offer will. They offer group reading sessions for young children, hosted by a librarian. They also offer classes, some for learning new languages, others for learning new methods of using digital media (such as gaming, or other computer-based skills), and many other opportunities to learn. All of the events are listed by day and time on their website, listed above, and all are welcome to join at any time.

Address and Contact Info 

Hours of Operation 

  • Monday-Thursday: 10a-8p
  • Friday-Saturday: 10a-5:30p
  • Sunday: 12p-5p

Accessible by:

  • Bike
  • Port Authority bus route
  • Walking distance from any point in Oakland
  • Street parking on Forbes Avenue, Bigelow Boulevard, and parking garage in Soldier’s and Sailor’s museum.


Moving Forward and Looking Back

Olivia DiPrimio

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (CLP) graces the city with 19 different locations around the 58 square miles that make up city limits. Pittsburgh can thank Andrew Carnegie, steel entrepreneur, for this specific contribution. Carnegie sought to use his funds in the most philanthropic way he knew how: providing access to education to all people of the world, no matter their socioeconomic class. The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh does for its customers what one would think it does – they loan books, have an online database to make navigation easier for the patrons, and each branch is filled with information clerks to help anyone unfamiliar with the services. Truly, the Pittsburgh public library system is an integral part to the city  – after all there are three libraries for every square mile. They’re kind of a big deal.

When our class went to the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, we visited the main branch, which just so happened to be on our home turf in Oakland. The town itself is full of its own history, after all, it is the meeting place of two major universities and a bustling site for young college kids to call home. But smack dab in the middle, in between the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University campuses, sits a grey, mansion-esque building. A cobblestone street and carefully placed trees line the walkway up to a small grassy field. Suddenly, as you approach the library, it starts to feel as though you are leaving the city behind you, and on-campus worries are left at the the glass door. How symbolic it is, that one should feel like they’re entering a new world as they make their way into the library, a place that houses a million different worlds, with stories told through a million different voices.

Figure 1: A small glimpse at the endless walls of texts

To backtrack for a moment, the library system was founded by Andrew Carnegie back in the late 1800s, as our class was told by our tour guide through the main branch. He, the son of immigrants, was not able to enjoy the education that a few lucky Americans were able to during that time. Therefore, when he began to climb the socioeconomic ladder, he did not lose sight of the things in life that were truly important – education, equal access to that education, and an environment where all learners of any age have the ability to thrive.

The building itself has undergone many changes since its inception as the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh – Oakland. The original building has been photographed with castle-like rotundas and watch towers on the north and south side of the building. The building has been significantly scaled down since then, now taking on a plain, modest, rectangular shape.

Figure 2: Photo taken ca. 1950 by John R. Shrader

Although the photo above was taken almost seventy years ago, it is quite easy to find similarities between the past and the present. For starters, the building exterior has seemingly changed very little since this photo was taken. In addition to that, if you look closely at where the building meets the ground, you can see a whole bunch of little figures that appear to be in motion. While we don’t know exactly who these people are, it’s fun to imagine that they are Pitt Panthers of year’s past. But no matter who they are, whether they are coming or they are going, they are – hopefully – taking in what Carnegie had intended for them to have: a meeting place, a learning center, a central landmark in the middle of Oakland for all residents of the town to have access to. Still today, that’s what it is.

Even though the outside of the building has changed very little, the inside has rapidly evolved with the world around it. There are databases connecting each of the libraries, so they can all keep tabs on which location has which books. There are computer stations on every floor, quiet and collaborative, for patrons who either need a peaceful place to study or groups that need a central locale to meet up. There is a fully stocked coffee bar on the main floor, appealing to the average caffeine-dependent college student. Nearby that are a series of computers for the customer to use to look up the location of their book in the library, holding the customer accountable for knowing how to navigate the maze lined with book shelves. And lastly, there are themed sections for any and all potential library-card holders (which, by the way, are free). 

Books are divided up by genres: fiction, non-fiction, historical, sci-fi, the list goes on. But there are two particular sections that appeal to very specific demographics – Oaklands teens and kids! The teen section takes up an impressive part of the main floor, with its own info desk table, plentiful shelves filled with graphic novels, DVDs, CDs, and any other type of teen-friendly reading material you could imagine. There is a separate reading nook for the teens who like a quieter setting, and computers for those who want to enjoy some of the digital materials CLP-Oakland has to offer. And even though this section is really cool (and I wish I had something like it at my library back home), nothing in the library quite stacks up to the kid’s section on the second floor.

This section is probably twice the size of the teen’s section – not necessarily because more kids are coming but because kids need more space to run around in between chapters from their books! There is a wide array of materials for parents to read to their babies, chapter books for some of the older kids, and everything in-between. Light hardwood floor takes the place of the white walls and pillars that surround many of the other rooms. There’s even a small – yet impressive – play set in the middle of the room. To make sure Pittsburgh’s youth is prepared for an increasingly tech-friendly world, their space has computers with learning-conducive games already downloaded. All a child needs to do is sit down and click away.

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s main branch has certainly taken strides to ensure that customers of all ages can happily enjoy the services they have to offer. As our tour guide mentioned, their main goal is to always honor the wishes of their founder, who wanted the library to be a source for people to enhance their education no matter their socioeconomic background. But the world has certainly changed since Andrew Carnegie first developed the CLP system, and the world will continue to change over the next 100+ years. There is no way to know what the future will bring, but Pittsburghers can be sure that CLP will keep up their effort to provide the best quality service to the city that they can. So whether you’re in Homewood, Shadyside, East Liberty, or Mount Washington, head over to your local branch – you’re almost guaranteed to have one! – and sign up for your library card. And remember, in the wise words of our friends from the cartoon, Arthur…. giphy.gif



Works Cited

Shrader, John R. Carnegie Museum and Library. 1940-1960. Allegheny Conference on Community Development Photographs, Oakland. N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. Historic Pittsburgh. Web. 4 Mar. 2016.

Standiford, Les. Meet You in Hell: Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and the Bitter Partnership That Transformed America. New York: Crown, 2005. Print.