Summer 2018
Feature Story

Beyond Books

To honor Hillman Library's 50th anniversary, Pitt alumni recall how the campus cornerstone brought the world to them.
Photography by
University Archives and Pitt Visual Services

Hillman Library’s glass doors first swung open on January 8, 1968. Named in honor of John H. Hillman Jr., father of business executive and philanthropist Henry Hillman, the expansive limestone building greeted visitors with more than 600,000 books, a knowledgeable staff, and bright, airy study spaces.

Henry and Elsie Hillman stand in front of the newly completed Hillman Library.Half a century later, much has changed within the University’s first centralized library. Patrons now have access to more than 7 million volumes. Computers have replaced card catalogs. There are new study spaces and an abundance of digital resources. A multi-year renovation is in the works to make room for new services, spaces, and equipment. What remains constant, however, is the important role the library and its staff play in the Pitt community and beyond.

For the past 50 years, “Hillman Library has been a central place on campus for our students, faculty, and staff to find inspiration and feel their academic aspirations,” says Kornelia Tancheva, director of the University Library System (ULS). “As we look toward the next chapter of its history, we know it will remain a space that nurtures the pursuit of knowledge for the campus and the community.”

To help celebrate the building’s 50th anniversary, ULS encouraged alumni, faculty, and staff to share their favorite Hillman memories. Among the more than 100 submissions are stories of how the library served as a study hall, a sanctuary, a social setting, and, above all, a place that broadens and enriches lives.

The library under construction.“I took a civil engineering course at Pitt in the late 1950s and learned about soil engineering, material strength, concrete design, and more. It was all helpful when, as a young engineer, I was assigned the prestigious role of project manager for the building of Hillman Library, 1965 through ’68. I worked for Dick Corporation, one of the city's premier general contractors. The success of this project helped to launch my career in construction management. I became vice president of the company, and went on to work on U.S. highways, mills, and power plants.” —Jack Nieri (ENGR ’60)

“In 1968, I was a freshman and commuted to Pitt from my family’s home in Forest Hills. Thank goodness for Hillman Library. It was a place where I could hook up and sit with my friends at the long, empty tables on the first floor near the Cantini wall sculpture. Sometimes we would be told to keep the noise down and we tried. It was a blessing to have the new library at the center of campus (and near the bus stop) for commuters who had no dorm room to retreat to when we needed to relax and re-energize.”—Marylyn Devlin (A&S ’72)

“Hillman Library introduced me to new cultures. As a graduate student in the 1988-1989 academic year, I was in the stacks, doing research, when I first saw a Muslim student take out a prayer rug and answer the call to prayer. I didn’t have a broad sense of the world then, and I remember being impressed by a student who would openly profess their faith so responsibly. Now, my hometown of Columbus, Ohio, is a refuge for many Muslims escaping war and violence. But back then, before the Internet or anything, it was an eye-opening experience.”—Jennifer Collins Young (SIS ’89)

“I have always been told that education is power, and I found that out at Hillman Library. I have a learning disability. Students I studied with got their 10- to 20-page assignments done in a few days, while I needed an entire table with 10 books and several weeks to complete the same assignment. I probably spent 30-40 hours a week studying at Hillman because I needed more time than most people. The Hillman reference desk and computer staff took extra time to lead me to proper research and resources. With their help, I earned the GPA that allowed me to graduate with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work.”—Jeffrey Parker (SOC WK ’97, ’98G)

Librarians and work study students shelve newly acquired books in November 1970.“A little more than a decade ago, I was an undergraduate library assistant at Hillman. I saw the excellent people skills of the staff as they helped ‘customers’ get music from the Stark Listening Center, journal articles, and microfilm. The staff always had a smile. I’d hang out with them after work. They inspired me to get a master's of library and information science at Pitt, and learning while ‘on the job’ literally changed my life. All of these years later, I work as a business librarian and stay in touch with some of the people I worked with at that world-class library within a world-class school.”—Curt Friehs (BUS ’03, SIS ’05)

Two Black women look at a book in the library's archives and special collections.“It was summer 2008, and once a week I found myself drilling down into the K. Leroy Irvis papers for a course called Collections Conservation. I was a graduate student in library sciences specializing in archives, preservation, and records management. The class goal was to mount an exhibition in Hillman’s K. Leroy Irvis Reading Room, to publicly share the story of Pennsylvania’s first Black Speaker of the House. Touching his legislative papers, photographs, and personal arts brought Mr. Irvis to life. It showed that history could come alive at the library. I've worked as a professional archivist since. That experience shaped my career.”—Brigette Kamsler (SIS ’08)


This article appeared in the Summer 2018 issue of Pitt Magazine.