The Context


In the nineteenth century, Andrew Carnegie brought plaster casts of European sculpture home to the Carnegie Library and Museums of Pittsburgh to offer the public a window on the world. Today, that same library uses a network of electronic information resources to bring more of the world to residents, 85 percent of whom have lived only in the Pittsburgh area. The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is a large urban system, serving a population of 1,336,463 through services provided at a main library, 18 branches, and three bookmobiles, as well as online. In 1995, the library collection included 6,000,000 items, the library circulated 3,000,000 items, and staff answered 1,500,000 reference questions. In 1995, the library received support of $21.00 per capita. The library’s mission is to be a proactive force for its community, serving the educational, information, and cultural needs of individuals and organizations. Providing equal access to all information for all people is a core value in this library.

Three adjectives describe the recent orientation of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh: regional, strategically focused, and collaborative. The library’s base of funding, scope of responsibility, and sphere of influence are increasingly regional rather than municipal. Its projects to build a telecommunications infrastructure and a community information network are on a large, regional scale. The library approaches these large projects strategically: initial investigation is followed by planning, then, in turn, by fund raising, implementation, and evaluation, resulting in a well-documented process of institution building and program development. In the development of information resources and community programs–smaller scale initiatives–the library management seems comfortable to serve as either a catalyst or a responsive service provider, willing to try things as opportunity arises but within the framework of the library’s overall strategic plan. Over the last decade, the library has increasingly built programs in collaboration with organizations in the community, including local libraries and other nonprofit organizations. Looking to the future, library director Robert Croneberger sees the library trying new ways to carry out its primary role as a purveyor of educational, informational, and cultural resources by serving as an editor, publisher, and distributor of local information, especially in electronic form.