Hillman remodel to finish by 2023

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Thomas Yang | Assistant Visual Editor

Hillman Library’s renovations are aimed for completion by 2023.

By Rebecca Johnson, Senior Staff Writer

Some students had difficulty finding an open study spot in Hillman Library during finals week this year, including Rachel Gillmer, a first-year nursing major. Gillmer said she wishes the third floor would have been open during this particularly hectic point in the semester.

“During finals, I wish the third floor was opened because I feel like more kids could get a spot [in Hillman],” Gillmer said. “The other morning I had to go searching all over campus for a place to study.”

While the third floor remodel is expected to be completed soon, Gilmer and other underclassmen will still have to wait a couple years for construction to finish before the entire library is open to students. Pitt plans to remodel the second floor after the third floor opens, followed by the first and ground floors. Fourth floor renovations were completed in fall 2018. The renovations are targeted to be finished entirely by 2023. Jeff Wisniewski, the director of communications and web services for the University Library System said this schedule is in keeping with the University’s five-year plan of closing and remodeling one floor per year.

“We are trying to do a floor a year,” Wisniewski said. “So, our best estimate at this point is that [the third floor] will open sometime in the spring before students leave for summer break.”

The third floor will be home to new tech-savvy amenities including a 20-foot-long interactive digital wall similar to the one located in the Global Hub in Posvar Hall and a room Wisniewski said Pitt is unofficially calling the “text and context lab.” The lab will include equipment for bookbinding, papermaking and letterpressing. Archives and Special Collections will also be moved to the Forbes Avenue side and will feature a reading room, classroom and exhibition area. Wisniewski said these additions mark Hillman’s emphasis on technology-based learning.

“The idea is that it’s a space where people can interact with text in many different formats including text and digital,” Wisniewski said. “We can take a building that was built before the digital era and update the space to reflect what a modern library can and should be.”

New technology is also anticipated to be added on the ground floor, including more audio and visual production spaces and a Pitt Information Technology computer lab. This is on top of a more centrally located information desk. Carrie Donovan, the head of public services for Hillman Library who oversees 35 librarians and the employees at the service desk, said this new information desk will help students be more independent when conducting research in the library.

“We’re really hoping that all of our services will be connected organically through the spaces, so that when you come into the library it’s barrier-free in the sense that it’s kind of intuitive where things are located,” Donovan said. “We want to empower students to be independent and confident in their research and academic pursuits while being here to help as needed.”

At the end of the project, the bathrooms, elevators and stairwells will also be renovated. Wisniewski said waiting until the end of the remodel instead of updating them floor by floor makes the most sense from a construction perspective.

“Even though the fourth floor has been renovated, the bathrooms haven’t. That will be at the end of the project, but it is happening,” Wisniewski said. “It’s the most time- and cost-effective to do the entire core at the same time.”

The total cost of these projects is unknown. Daniel Marcinko, the assistant vice chancellor for administration and design at Pitt’s Facilities Management office said he can’t disclose the projected cost of the remodel.

“We are still very much in construction on phase two of the project and are just getting started on design of phase three which will be floors one and two,” Marcinko said. “Therefore, we are unable to provide the cost and projected cost information you are requesting at this time.”

While Hillman Library pivots to a digital format, data shows students might not be entirely on board. A 2015 study reported by the American Psychological Association found that 92% of students surveyed preferred physical text over electronic versions. A 2016 study conducted at Duke University also found that while a majority of students prioritize the need for technical help and delivery of books, a much smaller minority find data visualization and writing studios important. 

Students at Pitt have said they would like more basic additions to the library. Gillmer said she would like more whiteboard rooms and group study spaces because she “feels like they are so effective and there isn’t enough of them.” Peter Lovecchio, a law student, said he would like new tables on the ground floor and outlets on the tables similar to those at University of Illinois, where he attended undergraduate school. 

The same students enjoy the fourth floor remodel. While Lovecchio said he doesn’t study on the fourth floor because he prefers a louder environment, Gillmer said she prefers the fourth floor’s new look and believes it has helped her studying.

“I really like the fourth floor. I think it’s a great space for students to focus on their work. It’s nice and quiet, and I like the lighting,” Gillmer said. “I feel like when I come down [to the ground floor], it’s a lot more of a social environment, but upstairs I have to be more focused.

Wisniewski said he hopes the excitement students feel about the fourth floor will continue throughout the entirety of the remodel.

“What we’re looking at is creating more spaces for people – study space, collaboration space, creation space,” Wisniewski said. “We want to make the library a hub on campus for creation and collaboration and study.”

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