Historic Pittsburgh hosts fair at Carnegie Library


Historic Pittsburgh is digitizing and uploading archived photos of Pittsburgh — including this aerial shot of the Point — to historicpittsburgh.org. (Photo via Pitt’s University Library System)

Rick Sebak, a native Pittsburgh filmmaker and producer, held a “Pittsburgh Changes the World” sign above his head, eliciting nods from the audience at the Historic Pittsburgh Fair.

Sebak and many of the audience members reminisced over Pittsburgh’s greatest historical contributions, ranging from world-renowned ketchup to colossal amounts of steel. About 50 history fanatics like Sebak gathered at the Historic Pittsburgh Fair — a four-hour event designed to pull together historic institutions — this Saturday at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. Attendees took part in a variety of activities, including trivia with Sebak and lectures on genealogy and digitization.

Attendees walked around a ring of tables — managed by libraries and historical institutions — covered with pamphlets and photographs. Visitors saw pictures of the Perry Highway construction and decadent hand-bound children’s books on display. Many looked at old photographs of families picnicking in North Park and of the community pools and boathouses of Northland, or they began to create their own digitized memories through Carnegie Library’s REcollection Studio.

Historic Pittsburgh, an organization founded in 1999, is a coalition of 15 institutions from the greater Pittsburgh area created to make historical information accessible to the public. Among these groups are Pitt, Carnegie Mellon University, the Historical Society of Upper St. Clair and the Carnegie Library — the organization’s newest member.

Brooke Sansosti, the digitization and special projects lead at the Carnegie Library and organizer of the event, was excited to bring the Carnegie Library into the Historic Pittsburgh organization.

“The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has just become a partner with Historic Pittsburgh, and so we felt that this would be a great time for us to host the Historic Pittsburgh Fair,” Sansosti said.

With her background in art history and experience as a visual resources librarian, Sansosti was brought in about two years ago to start the library’s extensive process of digitizing its archived materials. Throughout the process, Sansosti found that the library needed a forum to provide public access to the material.

Gabby Lee, a student in Pitt’s Master of library and information science program, has worked at the Carnegie Library in the REcollections Studio since August. (Photo courtesy of Siddhi Shockey)

In addition to becoming a member, the Carnegie Library has also opened its digitization department, the REcollection Studio, last September. It’s designed to take personal content such as photographs, VHS tapes, cassettes and other media and turn them into digitized content which can be shared with family or friends.

Gabby Lee, a graduate student at Pitt pursuing a master’s degree in library information science, works at the Carnegie Library through Pitt Partners. Lee has been working in the REcollections Studio since August.

“The hope is for this to continue to grow,” Lee said. “People [can] come in and have things they’d like to digitize and we’d be more than happy to help them or keep those things to learn more about the history of Pittsburgh [through] the community.”

While the Carnegie Library has only begun dabbling in digitization recently, other partners have been pursuing digitization for years. Amy Steele, the executive director of Northland Public Library — located north of downtown Pittsburgh — has been working to gather and digitize content from the Northland region.

Prior to the Northland Public Library joining Historic Pittsburgh, Steele found it very difficult to digitize and create public access to such large volumes of historical archives. However, since the library joined the organization about 10 years ago, she said access and interest in the library’s historical content has skyrocketed.

“It’s been a lot of fun doing those programs, and we can tell because we always promote the website and you can see when the statistics jumped up because within the next couple of days people start using the website,” Steele said.

Having somewhere online to host these materials has enabled them to host lectures and events designed to educate the public on Northland history as well. By attending events such as the Historic Pittsburgh Fair, Steele has gathered more information to develop her resources further.

“I love talking to all the people that share that interest because I learn from them and they learn from me,” Steele said.

Historic Pittsburgh has created an opportunity for smaller institutions such as Steele’s and larger ones like the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh to expand their digital archives. Sansosti and Steele agree that Historic Pittsburgh has become a catalyst for numerous cultural heritage organizations within the Pittsburgh community to come together and join with the public to celebrate Pittsburgh culture.

Sansosti hopes the fairs will become an annual event, as this was the first time all the partners of Historic Pittsburgh could gather since 2014. She said the organization and community support will continue to grow.

“Sharing memories is something that we are supporting here,” Sansosti said.