In Rebuttal: Polishing the jewel

Pitt's plans to renovate Hillman Library will ensure its value for generations to come

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Throughout history, great civilizations have been built on the libraries they have amassed. The same is true of the great educational institutions like the University of Pittsburgh that today advance those civilizations and preserve the record of human attainment.

Rush G. Miller is university librarian and director of the University Library System at the University of Pittsburgh.

At Pitt, our library system is at the heart and soul of our education, research and public service missions. There is no other single aspect of the university that so clearly and powerfully epitomizes what we stand for. And for that reason, Pitt has invested in our library, not only financially and strategically but emotionally as well.

Our recent announcement of a 12-year billion-dollar investment in renovating and modernizing our historic campus included a $52 million upgrade of the cornerstone of our world-class library system, Hillman Library. That infusion of resources will ensure that Hillman's pre-eminence in this region and its towering reputation in the world will continue for generations to come.

There can be no question that this approach will create a great library because Hillman already is one -- without the need to build a new structure, as suggested by the Post-Gazette editorial board ("A New Hillman: Pitt Should Replace, Not Repair, Its Main Library," May 23).

Among the elite research libraries in North America, Pitt's library system ranks in the top 25 in total materials, ahead of such other prestigious institutions as Northwestern, Vanderbilt, Notre Dame, Dartmouth and MIT.

Hillman's collections are important and historic, including the valuable World War II and Pearl Harbor archive recently donated by Pitt Professor Donald M. Goldstein, the Dick Thornburgh archive, the K. Leroy Irvis archive and the Eduardo Lozano Latin American Collection, one of the finest Latin American collections in the United States. Just last week, the delegation of the European Commission to the USA entrusted Pitt with its entire European Union depository collection, the most extensive collection of public European Community/European documents in the nation.

In the past year alone, users of Pitt's library system -- including faculty and students from throughout the world -- visited Hillman Library in person more than 1.7 million times and electronically more than 28 million times.

Great libraries are never stagnant: They are living and growing organisms that require nurturing and constant care.

At Pitt, this devotion to continually improving our libraries has been a core value of Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg. In his 12 years as chancellor, our collections have grown by almost 2 million volumes despite steady inflation in the cost of books. While most libraries in North America have experienced a reduction in journal titles, Pitt has doubled our journal holdings. Our budget for books and journals has more than doubled from $6.7 million to $13.6 million. And our total library expenditures have risen 65 percent, from $17 million to $28 million.

The content of Pitt's library system is clearly an impressive work in progress. But so is the Hillman Library building itself. Built in 1968 to architectural acclaim, the structure has continued to win design recognition. In 1996, Hillman architect Celli-Flynn and Associates won the Timeless Award for Enduring Design for its design of Hillman Library.

The Hillman design also has proved to be remarkably adaptable to new collections and new technologies. In recent years, state-of-the-art reading rooms, a new microforms room, new special collections rooms, the Cup and Chaucer Cafe and a beautified entrance have enhanced the utility, comfort and ambiance of the library. Over the past 12 years, the university has invested more than $9 million in such improvements.

The exterior of Hillman Library is modern, symmetrical and clean. The interior is beautiful and rich, with teakwood paneling. But it's what is on the shelves and online that is truly majestic.

The Hillman Library continues to function brilliantly in both its traditional and cutting-edge roles. Our plans to invest further in its infrastructure and contents demonstrate our commitment to shared information, responsible stewardship and our passionate belief that nothing is more vital to a great institution of higher learning and the civilization it serves than its library.


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