Point Park College and the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, The Library Center: A Public-Private Library Partnership

 
Point Park College and the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, The Library Center A Public-Private Library Partnership
http://www.clpgh.org/clp/libctr/


BACKGROUND

The Library Center, which combines the Point Park College Library, the former Business Library, and the Downtown Branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, is a unique partnership between Point Park College, a four-year private professional college located in downtown Pittsburgh, and the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, a major urban public library. The college was founded in 1960 as a two-year community college. It has four downtown buildings and the Pittsburgh Playhouse in nearby Oakland, which is used for classes and programs of the Department of Fine, Applied and Performing Arts.1 The downtown buildings include Academic Hall, with classrooms, laboratories, a newsroom, a television studio, a computer center, and administrative offices; Lawrence Hall, a 21-story building with dance studios, classrooms, and student service facilities; and Thayer Hall, which houses the Point Park Children’s School and additional dormitory rooms.

The Point Park College curriculum includes computer science, education and teacher education, engineering, health sciences, social science, performing arts, and business and marketing. Because the college emphasizes the fine, applied, and performing arts, it requires an auditorium and sophisticated video equipment for teaching and assignments. Its reference requirements are for traditional and electronic indexes, along with other standard reference materials. The collection is developed in response to the academic needs of the college.

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s expectations for the new library were that it would give the downtown community open access to all collections and that it would support the business community in particular. The library also serves as a convenient service site for several community-based organizations that are closely affiliated with the public library, including the Literacy Council and the Small Business Administration. The library’s Job and Career Center, Foundation Center, and Family Center serve special user needs.

The college and the public library serve different users who, by and large, need different materials and services. There is little overlap in subject and collection requirements. There is mutual interest in the fields of business, journalism, and communication, but most of the other fields are particular to one library or the other.

The public benefits from the large, although necessarily unbalanced, academic collection, and the college benefits from the large business reference collection of the public library. Now there is the opportunity to build a broader reference collection that serves both constituencies through acquisition of shared electronic databases and services.

THE PROJECT

This partnership is a story of need finding opportunity through collaboration of committed, pragmatic professionals. In the early 1990s, Point Park College President Matthew Simon and Carnegie Library Director Robert Croneberger faced similar problems that could be met by a common, if unusual, solution. President Simon envisioned an improved and expanded library for Point Park’s 2,300 students and 195 faculty members; Director Croneberger needed a permanent home for the Downtown and Business Information Center Library, which had been housed in numerous rented locations since the 1920s.

Although they may both have had a need for space and a lack of funding, the missions of the two institutions and their funding and governance structure were entirely different. The privately funded college needed a library to support its academic program, whereas the Carnegie Library needed a new site for its downtown branch, which traditionally focused on business patrons. A possible solution to the problems of both institutions appeared when a historic building that had previously served as a banking center and retail mall was offered as a donation to Point Park College.

The two presidents agreed with a handshake to work together to create a library that served the patrons of their two respective institutions. What the staff refer to as a gentlemen’s agreement was in fact a wedding of opportunity and need, through which the two disparate institutions have been able to forge a partnership. At the time of the agreement, there was no other library in the country that was shared by a private college and a public library system. As of this writing (December 1998), there is still no other, although negotiations between San Jose State University and the City of San Jose for a similar venture have been under way for some time.

The Point Park College Academic Library and the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh now share a restored turn-of-the-century building called The Library Center. The entrance building of this 60,000 square-foot structure, built in the classical revival style about 1900, was designed as a bank by Frederick Osterling, an eminent local architect. In 1974, the buildings were remodeled as an indoor retail mall known as The Bank Center. But the mall failed to attract sufficient business, the owners filed for bankruptcy in 1981, and the building closed in January 1987. The Bank Center building was officially donated to Point Park College in June 1990, and shortly thereafter, planning began to create a combined academic and public library.

The Library Center opened to the faculty and students of the College and the public on May 12, 1997. In an article on “The Library Center” published in the Carnegie Magazine (March/April 1997,) Abby Mendelson wrote, “Blending Carnegie Library’s 30,000 volumes, plus serials, bound periodicals, and microfilm/microfiche archives, with Point Park’s 124,000-volume Helen-Jean Moore Library has created an information juggernaut-but now with the world literally at your fingertips via the Internet, the depth of the well is literally without measure.” Use of the library (about 800 people or more per weekday) is growing, and is predicted to increase considerably in the years ahead.

The Library Center contains more than 150,000 volumes, 10,000 reference works, subscriptions to 612 periodicals and newspapers, and multimedia materials. Its patrons have access to the World Wide Web. The Business Center on the second floor provides business information in all formats, including online and CD-ROM disks; the International Business Collection supports Point Park College’s master’s program in international business. A joint general reference department serves both academic and public library needs. The reserve room and the college’s electronic classroom are maintained for the exclusive use of students and faculty. The classroom is the only area of the building not managed by the Carnegie Library.

The Library Center is a participant in the Electronic Information Network (EIN), the countywide library network that provides public libraries with an online catalog, circulation systems, and access to commercial databases (such as Info Trac, EBSCOhost, GaleNet, Britannica Online, and Grolier Online), as well as the Internet. The Library’s catalog includes the holdings of public libraries in Allegheny County.

The Library Center is administered by Director Pam Maxwell Craychee. Its funds are provided by both Point Park and the Carnegie Library. The conversion from bank building to library and the initial start-up costs were supported primarily by a foundation grant and by fund-raising efforts. The college owns the building, and the Carnegie Library manages and operates the library under a formal agreement signed by the former president of the college and the former director of the public library system. (The agreement is now being reviewed by the present administrators of each organization.) The core planning committee for the building’s renovation included administrative representatives of both organizations.

The Process

Despite the good faith and commitment to collaboration of both leaders, Point Park College and the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh took considerable risks in planning one library for use by both a private college and a public library. The planning phase of The Library Center lasted approximately seven years (1990-1997), drawn out by architectural challenges, increasing costs, changes in leadership, and unanticipated delays. The departure of President Simon in the middle of the planning phase and the untimely death of Carnegie Library Director Bob Croneberger seven months after the opening, left the project without the guidance of the administrators who had conceived the idea. During the planning phase, faces changed many times. The college had two interim presidents after Simon returned to teaching, and Point Park’s trustees took a more active role in the planning process and leadership of the college. The original project director resigned, and the library director chose to leave the library for a teaching position in the college. Carnegie Library delegated its planning activities to the deputy director, and seven months before The Library Center opened, appointed an assistant director as its interim director to complete the project.

The decision to create a combined library was made at the highest levels of both institutions, but the implementation of the plan was originally entrusted to the libraries’ staff members. Those who were responsible for making it work had few, if any, precedents and little guidance in the literature they consulted. Staff from the two libraries were appointed to task forces. They read books on problem solving and teamwork, hoping to find suggestions that would help them work productively together. They shared their concerns and jointly analyzed the problems and issues, assigning leadership responsibilities on the basis of staff skills and institutional interests. They remember the early days of the project as a difficult time when staff felt apprehensive about the magnitude of the task ahead.

At first, staff efforts at team building were frustrated by the tendency to focus on the differences among staff, mission, and patrons. One staff member reported that once the top-level decision had been made and the responsibility for implementation moved down, the staffs of both libraries lacked any consistent guidance from above or any reassurance that their work was on the right track. These early difficulties and the misgivings that accompanied them abated with time, however, and there is little lingering evidence of that difficult transitional period.

An unanticipated benefit of the drawn-out planning phase was the opportunity to take advantage of technological innovations. Recognizing that the new library would have to offer access to online databases, CD-ROM databases, e-mail, and the Internet, the planning group ordered 100 computer terminals that were versatile enough to serve as word processors for staff and as gateways to remote databases for all. The wiring demands that this made on the old building created serious challenges for the renovation team. Technical expertise for the electronic network of the library was available from EIN.

Economies of scale were realized by having the Carnegie Library take responsibility for integrating and updating the cataloging for all of the acquisitions of the two former libraries. The college, for its part, provided expertise for the integration of The Library Center into the college communications and instructional systems.

Funding

In the 1990s, neither the college nor the library were fully funded for their primary mission work, let alone for taking on a new initiative. Finding sufficient funds for the renovation was a major problem, and, as time went on, funding needs increased as costs rose. The Buhl Foundation provided strong early support to the college, and the college took the lead in raising funds for the building renovation. It was necessary for Point Park College and the Carnegie Library to join forces in soliciting additional funding for the project and operating costs. That joint fundraising effort, including appeals to the public, remains critical to the success of this project. Fortunately, there has been considerable public support for The Library Center, because of the public library’s strong commitment to the Pittsburgh community and the leadership of the college and its trustees.

The college now covers the expenses of maintaining the building and security services, while the Public Library supports the staff and all library services, including technical services. The college and the library operate on different fiscal years and their budget planning is fundamentally different. This lack of synchrony makes it all the more important, then, that the two institutions revisit their operating agreement periodically to adjust to any changes in funding. Frequent communication between the executive officers of the college and the library is essential to the continuing success of The Library Center.

Renovations

The renovation and preservation of a historically important building was not easy: lighting, heating, and air conditioning had to be upgraded; asbestos had to be removed; and every one of the building’s 22 distinct levels had to be made wheelchair accessible. The renovation of the building was undertaken by Syl Damianos, an architect known to be sensitive to the original architect’s vision. He had worked on several other building projects for the public library system and so was familiar with the needs of library buildings. Throughout the renovation, the architect had to fit new functions into spaces designed for other purposes (for example, one original bank vault was converted for newspaper storage, another to a small computer lab). Network wiring had to be added to a building that had been designed long before the availability of computers and networks, and this involved trade-offs that pleased no one. For example, as costs for wiring crept up, the number of reference desks decreased.

The reporting system of the renovation team exemplifies the ways in which the two institutions constantly had to find ways to collaborate across institutional lines: the architect reported to the college, yet the renovation plans had to be made within the context of the work performed by both the Point Park College and Carnegie Library staffs. There were trade-offs between maintaining architectural integrity and making the library more functional, and library staff members have had to modify the space further to fit their needs since they occupied the building two years ago.

The Opening

With the reassignment of the college library’s former director as a professor in the college, the college had the expertise it needed to enhance its required course in information literacy. The former director was also given responsibility for a Faculty Resource Center to support faculty members in their use of technology. The college sought funds for workshops and equipment to facilitate this work. When The Library Center opened, the staff had received little training in the use of the new network, although they were expected to use it and to train others. They reported that the new library opened before they were really ready for it to open, and they soon found themselves establishing a first-year goal of simply trying to “stay afloat.” As President Henderson remarked, the foundations supporting The Library Center, as well as the students, were impatient to see the results of the renovation. The pressure to open on schedule after years of delay, even if all was not ready, was overwhelming.

RESULTS

The Library Center’s first two years of operation, although a period of constant adjustment for the staff and users, have brought considerable achievement. A sense of accomplishment and optimism for the future are now palpable. The Library Center and its organizations, the public library system and the college, have devoted time to identifying the issues that need further resolution. Some of those issues have cost implications and some do not, and they have been incorporated into the organizations’ respective strategic plans.

As President Henderson said, the now-formalized operating agreement that began with a handshake is viewed by both partners as a living document. It represents a relationship built on trust and aimed at maximizing mutual benefits. The library is critical for the college, which is planning to increase its course offerings and student body, and is investigating becoming a university. During a recent accreditation visit to the college, the Engineering and Technology Accreditation Board commended the library in particular for its services to students and faculty. The Library Center is equally important for the public library, which needs a vibrant downtown branch to serve the people of Pittsburgh, and its business community in particular.

Because the new building has proved a congenial place for people to visit, use of the building, its collections, and its services has grown. Everyone recognizes that The Library Center is inadequately staffed for its rapidly increasing workload. Expanding the training for staff, faculty, and students, including training the faculty to use electronic resources in their courses, is also critical to the success of The Library Center, and this is reflected in the college’s strategic plan. The head of Academic Services tracks technological developments in high schools to gain insight into what students may know and expect when they arrive at Point Park as freshmen. Only part of the campus is wired for the Internet. Ensuring that this critical part of the college’s infrastructure extends beyond the library is a high priority.

Challenges

One of The Library Center’s biggest challenges is less tractable than the staffing and training issues. The strictures of working in a beautiful building meant to hold money and bankers, not books, computers, and researchers, is something that staff and patrons struggle with every day. Use of college facilities after hours, such as the multimedia theater, presents security problems, in large part because the building was not constructed for such use. In typical early twentieth-century style, all rooms debouch onto a common area, the “grand atrium,” and the main entrance serves all the interior spaces. The building has little flexibility, and it is hard to close one part and leave another open.

The spatial arrangements within the old building make it difficult to segregate the different types of users. This explains the decision to have student services on each floor and special reading rooms and collections for students on the third floor. As in all public libraries, there are disruptive patrons, those who come to use the Internet for non-serious purposes, and those who come in simply because it is a public space.

The mingling of spaces and collections also presents challenges for reference librarians. The business collections are patronized by the public, who come looking for answers to questions, but also by students, whose teachers expect that the reference staff will guide them in finding the answers themselves. Reference staff sometimes have difficulty making the switch from one type of service to the other.

Finally, the shared governance of the building presents some logistical problems. Nonetheless, The Library Center, housed as it is in a landmark building, has given this urban college a beautiful core for its vertical campus.

There are few problems that cannot be ameliorated or even eliminated by communication between the college and library staffs at all levels. The library director is invited to attend faculty meetings, and there is talk of building closer peer relations with the library. The head of Academic Services at the library is a tenured member of the college faculty. The president of the college works closely with library management and served on the search committee for the successor to the late director, Robert Croneberger.2 The chief executive officers of the college and library review the five-year operating agreement regularly to anticipate any modifications that might be needed. Both college and library managers realize that their continued successful collaboration will demand constant attention and commitment.


FOOTNOTES

1 At press time, the department had been renamed the Conservatory for Performing Arts.

2 Herbert Elish was appointed director of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, effective January 1999.