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Magazine Feature

Libraries Without Walls: The Opening of the Carnegie Library at Pittsburgh’s Public Market Branch

by Jason Vey & Elena Althaus on April 30, 2013

With looming budget cuts and the challenge of adapting to new technologies, libraries are facing hard times of providing new services while surmounting large funding gaps. Singer-songwriter Bob Dylan once wrote that “He not busy being born is busy dying.”1 This sentiment is certainly true of libraries, which must constantly reinvent themselves to overcome the challenges of budget cuts and rapid technology changes. For libraries today, the skill of adaptation is necessary for survival. This is an era of recessions, of deep funding cuts across the board for vital community services such as police, fire services, education and, of course,  libraries. There is perhaps a sense that politicians and decision-makers view libraries as outdated and outmoded materials, and the old stigma of libraries as little more than buildings with books is one from which librarians still fight to escape. And yet, even among these difficult times, libraries are adapting and evolving. Indeed, to survive in the digital age, libraries must evolve and change to meet the needs of information seekers in the current era.

“Libraries have transformed themselves from staid, sleepy institutions into hip community centers offering Internet service,classes for kids and seniors, and even coffee and video gaming nights,” according to a 2008 USA Today report.2 The report cites a survey and analysis that points to the fact that circulation and patronage rose dramatically between 2002 and 2006, as did the presence of computers and per capita spending by libraries. This shows that usage of the services and facilities libraries provide are still vital to communities, despite dwindling financial support from federal and state sources in these trying times. However, these numbers are just a start. It requires more than rising statistics and installing computers and the Internet to keep relevant in this society. It requires even more than e-book and audiobook offerings. Digital libraries are well and good, but what about traditional libraries? Any librarian will attest that libraries are far from outmoded, and farther from irrelevant to the modern era, but how can information professionals bring this view and this message to the general public?

What is required for libraries to remain relevant is to think outside of the box, to re-imagine the traditional idea of what a library is. What has to happen is that libraries need to remove their walls, both figuratively and literally.

Removing the walls is exactly what the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (CLP) seeks to do. CLP’s latest effort, Libraries in Your Neighborhood, Community, and Schools (LYNCS), seeks to re-imagine the way people see library services. The inaugural effort of this project is the creation of a brand-new service model to be housed in the Pittsburgh Public Market (PPM), an open showcase where local merchants, farmers, and craftspeople from all over Pittsburgh can display and sell their wares.

CLP, in conjunction with MLIS students from the University of Pittsburgh, has converted a two-hundred-square-foot area in PPM into what they call a “library without walls.” This service point features all of the information seeking options that one would expect from a full library, including books, DVDs, CDs, Internet-ready computers, and qualified librarians to staff the area during PPM’s hours. This article will explore the relationship of the LYNCS project to a traditional library branch, the process of development that took place to see the project to fruition, how the University students played a role in its establishment, and how projects like this can be vital to educating the public about the resources available at libraries nowadays. Libraries without walls, which bring the library service model to the community, rather than the community coming to the library, can be of vital importance as libraries struggle to adapt and evolve in the technological age.

Background and Context

Pittsburgh Public Market

The PPM project was begun in 2003 by the group Neighbors in the Strip (NITS),3 an organization dedicated to promoting economic development and preserving cultural identity in the Strip District. At the time, Pittsburgh had no functioning public market spaces. NITS chose the historic Produce Terminal Building as the ideal venue for the planned year-round public market. The project sought to build on the diverse cultural atmosphere of the Strip and Pittsburgh, while encouraging local farmers and vendors. Open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, the market currently hosts a diverse selection of vendors including ethnic foods, local produce, and artisans.

The market is designed to celebrate Pittsburgh and maintain a sustainable local economy. As such, it is by its very nature a community center, bringing people together and supporting local businesses. It is this dedication to community that makes PPM the ideal location for LYNCS. Public markets not only promote local businesses and organizations, but also provide a place for people to gather together socially and to share information about neighborhood events, developments, and concerns. Public libraries fit very well into this atmosphere, benefiting from the social importance of the market and using this to serve local information needs. As it supports small businesses and local production, PPM is a valuable institution of the community and a great place for sharing information and addressing local needs.

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

CLP is a local treasure that dates back to 1895, when Andrew Carnegie funded the establishment of the main library. The institution was established as a part of Carnegie’s program to promote open access to knowledge and learning. It is this mission that defines CLP today—a dedication to providing equal access to knowledge and learning to all members of the community. The CLP vision statement embraces this sentiment, stating that “Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh will inspire in the citizens of our region respect and responsibility for life-long learning, citizenship, and civic participation.”4

Today CLP boasts nineteen locations throughout Pittsburgh and receives more than two million visitors each year. Through these neighborhood facilities, CLP utilizes a system focused on neighborhoods in order to reach communities effectively. In its 2007–2011 Strategic Plan, CLP asserts:

Each of the neighborhood libraries is intimately connected with the community it serves. CLP’s recent economic impact study demonstrated the importance of our neighborhood libraries as a valued and valuable commodity: a library represents a higher investment in a community; it is an economic generator; and it is a symbol of stability.5

This commitment to neighborhood community lies at the heart of the LYNCS PPM project. Establishing a facility in the PPM is an extension of this  neighborhood-based approach as it brings CLP into an area that, until this time, has not had its own library branch. Additionally, the closest branches to the Strip District are only open on weekdays. Creating a library location available on weekends serves not only the Strip District, but also the nearby downtown and Lawrenceville neighborhoods. With its placement inside the public market, the location is convenient for residents and visitors of the Strip District. The LYNCS PPM project brings the CLP directly to a previously under-served community, utilizing the public market to promote the library as a community center
easily accessed by citizens.

The Public Market Option

An October 2008 article in BusinessWeek listed Pittsburgh as having a “solid layer of protection” against recessions due to the strong college and healthcare industries in the city.6 However, as the online newsletter for Washington County (Pa.) Library System points out, Pennsylvania has dropped to forty-seventh in the nation in terms of local library support.7 At the state level, Pennsylvania libraries have seen steady, and sometimes deep, cuts every year for the past six years. More than one local library has been forced to reduce or eliminate services and lay off staff. In some communities, for example, weekend hours for libraries are becoming a thing of the past. Despite its recession-proof reputation, Pittsburgh has seen its libraries suffer greatly.

Perhaps as a response to the recession, there has been a revival of the local arts and crafts community in Pittsburgh; several local independent cafés have flourished, as well as independent craft showcases. Within these pilot projects is an attitude that people can take control of their own financial well-being, without the need to rely on traditional business models. Among these efforts over the past several years has been PPM. PPM is a reflection of this homegrown renaissance in the city. Public markets have long been essential landmarks in cities around the world. They support local independent merchants who showcase their wares at relatively low overhead and rental costs and create a communal rather than competitive attitude among merchants and buyers.

It may seem strange to open up a service model in a public market. After all, how does a library relate to homemade marshmallows and chocolate,  homebrewed beer and wine, local produce, and handmade clothes and jewelry? This specific project came about following an earlier collaboration during an “It’s My Library, It’s My Neighborhood” advocacy week in December 2010. Molly Krichten, coordinator of the LYNCS project, explained:

The goal was to demonstrate libraries as present and relevant even to neighborhoods (and their residents) that don’t have library buildings. PPM managers Megan Cook and Cindy Cassell wanted to know how else PPM and CLP could partner. Could we do a storytime? Or come back again with a table of information about the library? I approached Mary Monaghan (assistant director, Neighborhood Libraries) and Mary Frances Cooper (deputy director) and asked if we could work on getting a small installation library set up in the PPM, with a grand opening falling during National Library Week. They said okay, and I ran with it.8

In Pittsburgh’s Strip District this allows for perhaps a more general collection than in some other areas, as the Strip attracts a very diverse crowd from all over the city. The Strip District is an historical and shopping district. It boasts the Pittsburgh Heinz History Center as well as gourmet coffee dealers, fresh seafood wholesalers, restaurants, ethnic food and grocery stores, sports memorabilia, and varied and sundry other odds and ends. However, food is beyond a doubt the single biggest reason people come to the Strip, and PPM is no exception. Thus, the collection at the LYNCS point focuses on food and local history, while still including popular DVDs, bestsellers, and a children/young adult section that features graphic novels, picture books, and popular YA fiction.

Perhaps the biggest advantage of the LYNCS location is that it is only open on weekends—Friday through Sunday. This fills a gap in the surrounding  neighborhoods whose libraries are being forced to cut weekend hours, while at the same time providing library services to a neighborhood that has not traditionally featured such, and keeping overhead low for CLP, since it is not faced with the budgetary issues of a full branch location. Specifically, the two neighborhoods that directly border the Strip—downtown and Lawrenceville— are seeing their libraries cut weekend hours. The LYNCS satellite will enable patrons of those two branches to maintain access to convenient and close library services on weekends.

Moving Beyond the Building: Libraries in the Digital Age

It’s not uncommon for libraries to open new branches. As cities expand and change, libraries have always been there to meet the changing needs of their citizens. So what, exactly, is so particular about CLP moving into the Strip District? This time, there is no building full of books. The “library” is just a desk, a few shelves, and some computer stations. Twenty years ago, the concept would have been absurd. Today, it is perfectly positioned to meet the information needs of the people. In fact, developments like this are exactly what libraries need in order to expand services to citizens while keeping costs low.

With information available at your fingertips, the relevance of libraries is increasingly called into question. Why bother making a trip to the library when you can find out whatever you want to know online? Currently, one of the primary defenses is the need of libraries to bridge the digital divide, making technology and technology assistance available to those without access. As the digital divide narrows in the United States, libraries need to continually improve services and clarify their relevance to all citizens. Keller, Reich, and Herkovic commented in 2003 that

We have observed a propensity for information technologists to predict with complete confidence the imminent demise of libraries. The seeds of this prognostication may date back to Vannevar Bush’s seminal paper of 1945, but the forest of such predictions has grown thick in the past decade.9

In fact, the age of the Internet has brought such an onslaught of information that effectively developed library services may become even more important. In today’s world, navigating the sea of information is a daunting task and libraries are well positioned to provide guidance in terms of finding and analyzing information resources. Additionally, libraries can use their resources to bridge the digital divide through the provision of access and education. These functions of libraries fulfill the mission that led to their very genesis: the idea of equal and open access to information.

Libraries already are utilizing new technologies to improve and market their services. Libraries engage in social networking, allow users to download e-books without even visiting the library, subscribe to digital collections, and provide online chat access to librarians. The concept of Library 2.0 is taking off. However, many of these resources require the user to be already aware of the library and the services it offers. Social networking can reach out, but networks remain limited. Moving beyond the walls of the library and straight to the heart of the community, CLP is reaching individuals who might not ever consider the library for their information needs. This expansion of the CLP network has the potential to be excellent marketing for library services.

With increased competition, libraries find themselves in a defense position. They must increase visibility, market services effectively to non-users, and improve those services. David Fergusson writes that the “thing people have always known is that we provide lots of free good books. It’s the other services that they don’t know about! “10 However, continuous improvement of services is just as important as marketing. The Internet competes against libraries because it is just so convenient, an increasingly important value. Increasing the ease of access to library services through the PPM is a significant  improvement in service provision.

Project Implementation: Creating Effective Partnerships

Project Planning

When CLP decided to create a library facility in the PPM, it was clear that the project would be developed with a very sparse budget. The implementation would involve creative use of resources and powerful partnerships. Krichten said,

A couple hundred dollars was taken from each branch’s collection budget to give us some money to start a collection. The budget that supports  neighborhood libraries supported our initiative. However, so much of it was done with volunteer work—the assembly of the furniture, transporting and laying of the flooring, setting up the space, and with LIS interns [from the University of Pittsburgh], [helping with] running the library.

CLP realized that the opening of this new service model would be a daunting task, and one which they could use help implementing. Knowing that a  partnership with the university’s MLIS program would be vital to the success, Krichten, who was already on a panel for an IS in the program, was  approached by Sue Alman, director of the MLIS program, for ideas to expand the Marketing in Libraries course. “I had been evaluating new service models part-time for CLP up to this point,” Krichten said, “and began thinking that partnering with the library school might be a way to test something out.”

They spent the following six months attempting to work the LYNCS PPM project into a course framework that would allow the students to focus on the project as the core of the class, building their experiences by seeing the new model through from inception to its planned opening during National Library Week. The collaboration would both enrich the experiences of the students by allowing them to design and implement a service point from the ground up, and help CLP with the Herculean task of implementing something that had never before been done. “This may be the first time that a U.S. library has provided full services in a public market,” Krichten commented. “It is very exciting to bring library services outside of library walls—we are reaching people where they work, live, and shop.”11

Project Implementation

The project was carried out through the partnership of the students and the CLP team. The students formed several teams to attack different aspects of the project and submitted their work to CLP for approval and enhancement. The four student teams worked on the following activities:

  • Environmental scan;
  • project promotions and website development;
  • facilities management and site preparation; and
  • monitoring and evaluation.

Environmental Scan

The environmental scan team developed a set of survey questions that were then taken to the Strip District and put to passers-by. The student volunteers collected and input the survey data, which was then used to determine the services that would be made available, improve collection development, and formulate ideas for types of events and promotions that would bring people to the library.

Project Promotions

Meanwhile, the project promotions team brainstormed different types of marketing and promotional schemes that would catch peoples’ attention. Suggestions for marketing covered everything from viral marketing (“What’s missing in the Strip?” with clues leading up to the eventual opening of the  branch) to the creation of a mascot—a lynx named LYNCS—who could be placed into photographs around the Strip, to more straightforward advertising schema. The team then assembled a report for Krichten and CLP’s LYNCS team, who further pared it down into a final marketing plan.

This final plan was unveiled to students in March at the program’s “Fast Track Weekend,” one weekend held each semester when all of the online students from all over the world come to campus to take in-person classes and meet the on-campus students and faculty. In the end, it was decided to combine  various elements, and a slogan of “Going to the Strip? Don’t forget your library card!” was developed along with bookmarks on the back of which was a mock shopping list including standard grocery items, but also line items such as “check out a cookbook” and “pay library fines.” The groups took advantage of social networking by suggesting the creation of a Facebook page for the LYNCS project, a suggestion that was adopted and implemented by CLP. The group further suggested that local news outlets be informed, and CLP implemented this suggestion as well.

Facilities Management

The facilities management team set to work surveying the area set aside for the LYNCS point—a two-hundred-square-foot area right inside PPM’s main  entrance — and searched for appropriate furniture, shelving, and computer terminals to make the best, most attractive use of the space. The team took particular account of the limited budget and ultimately chose a set of subtle furnishings. Placed around the edges of the area, the furnishings are able to feature a strong collection while still maintaining an open feeling and attractive workspace.

Monitoring and Evaluation

The monitoring and evaluation team was tasked with developing a set of indicators and parameters along which to determine the success of the LYNCS project over opening weekend and to develop a schema for ongoing evaluation and sustainability. The system developed by the team will be used not only to determine whether or not the LYNCS is meeting its goals, but also to refine services through ongoing analysis of user needs.

Opening Weekend

Opening weekend was considered to be an unqualified success. The library hosted typical advocacy and promotional events, such as instructional sessions on how to use e-reader devices to access the library’s services, how to get a library card, how to use technical resources at hand, and drop-in storytelling events for kids. In addition, several vendors offered discounts on products for those showing library cards.

CLP hosted a special scavenger hunt–type promotion that was kicked off with the opening weekend of the LYNCS point. This promotion allowed people to gain stickers and stamps on a form for performing such tasks as visiting a local library, checking out books, paying fines, and getting or renewing a library card — even for posting on library advocacy blogs or writing letters in support of libraries. Completing these events earned the person one or more chances to win a color e-reader, and if one completed enough events, a $25 “fine card,” for use in paying off library fines.

The weekend was covered by four of the five major local news outlets—the local NBC and CBS affiliates were there, as were the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Washington Tribune-Review newspapers. The event made the front page of the Post-Gazette and features ran all weekend on the NBC affiliate.

Implementation Challenges

Time was the most limiting factor in the overall project implementation. As the date was decided upon before most of the projects began, the pressure to stick to that opening day and get the work done in time was immense. By the time opening day rolled around, the environmental scan data had not yet been keyed in or analyzed, the monitoring and evaluation plan was still in the brainstorming phase, and a long-term marketing plan had not been developed. The amount that was accomplished by a group of students in such a limited time period was remarkable, but more preparation and long-term planning might have enabled the group to better focus activities.

At the same time, the public market branch was successfully opened on time and an evaluation plan has been developed to empower CLP to continuously improve and enhance its public market services. The lesson learned, perhaps, is that one of the first steps should be planning out the duration of each activity, as sometimes the completion of one activity may assist in carrying out another. A previously determined schedule might have better streamlined project development activities.

The end result is the combined power of three entities: (1) CLP, (2) the LIS program of the University of Pittsburgh, and (3) the community behind PPM. These organizations have found a mutual interest in promoting community development and lifelong learning.

Impact and Sustainability

The Significance of the LYNCS Project

Ever since the genesis of the library, people have imagined libraries as buildings housing information treasures with the librarian fulfilling a dual role of guarding and providing access. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a library as “a place in which literary, musical, artistic, or reference materials (as books, manuscripts, recordings, or films) are kept for use but not for sale”12 while the Cambridge Dictionary Online gives the definition as “a building, room, or organization which has a collection, especially of books, for people to read or borrow usually without payment.”13 The concept of physical space has been endemic to libraries, yet it is this limitation that libraries must overcome in order to remain viable in the twenty-first century.

By establishing a library branch within PPM, CLP is freeing itself from its physical confines and reaching out into the community, going where people already gather to spread the message of the library’s value and relevance in a changing world. The LYNCS PPM will not offer the full range of services available at other branches, but those services available will be able to meet a broad range of immediate information needs.

The two most essential features of the service point are the qualified librarians and the available technology. The service point is staffed by CLP and sometimes student interns from the University of Pittsburgh MLIS program. Computer stations are available for Internet access and connecting with the CLP system. A limited collection of books, CDs, and DVDs is permanently available at the service point, while users can also request books from other branches to be picked up at and returned to the PPM service center.

With library staff on hand to help shoppers find the information they need, it is expected that the service center will be able to promote the value-added information services that libraries provide. Too many people, when presented with the choice of quality information or easy information, will go for the most immediate option. With a library service center easy to access, users will be able to experience firsthand the difference in the quality of information found with the help of experienced librarians. Citizens who are not library users will be able to sample library services and sign up for a library card on the spot.

In addition to promoting library services, the facility also improves the user experience. Busy patrons might end up borrowing fewer books if they struggle to find the time to make a separate trip to the library. Some might wish to visit the library on weekends but find that the most conveniently located branch is closed. With the opening of the LYNCS PPM, patrons can combine a trip to the library with their weekend shopping. As libraries face more competition from online services, convenience and ease of use for users becomes more and more important.

As libraries redefine themselves, they move the focus from collections of information products to provision of information services. Not too long ago, a library without a building and with only a small collection of products would have been unthinkable. Today, CLP is confident that this facility is exactly what is needed to better serve the Pittsburgh community.

Looking to the Future: Project Development and Sustainability

Due to the novelty of the idea, it is as yet difficult to determine what its impact will be. Which services will be the most desired? Are there other services users will request? To what extent will the LYNCS PPM impact user convenience and library visibility? These questions remain to be answered, but the project team has developed a clearly defined set of indicators for monitoring and evaluation.

The first set of indicators was developed to analyze opening weekend success and included the following:

Quantitative Measures

  • Number of library cards registered or renewed
  • Number of people who signed the virtual guest book
  • Circulation statistics
  • Social-media statistics

These indicators will continue to be used to monitor outputs and impacts of the LYNCS center. Data can be updated on a weekly basis to demonstrate the activities of the service point. Additional information, such as data on which books are circulating most frequently, could help LYNCS staff continuously hone services to best meet the needs of patrons. Other usage data that might be tracked includes number of guests using library computers or other information services (reference questions and so on) to find information,and what information is sought. The information can be used to track user interests and also demonstrate trends in activity. Certain services may be more in demand on different days or in different seasons. By collecting information on the defined indicators, LYNCS can continually analyze user needs and improve services.

Qualitative Measures

The monitoring and evaluation plan also includes mechanisms for gathering and analyzing qualitative data. Prior to opening weekend, an environmental scan was conducted to assess user needs. Additionally, the digital guestbook at LYNCS allows for user input. These mechanisms for qualitative information gathering will continue to be used to explore the opinions and reactions of patrons. While the guestbook will be the primary means of collecting qualitative data, surveys remain a possibility for future activities.

As the center offers a limited range of services, costs are expected to remain low. Moreover, the partnership between CLP and the University of Pittsburgh will continue as students have already expressed interest in staffing the service point as interns receiving university credit. An ongoing relationship between the two institutions can enable CLP to provide services in the public market at a low cost.

The sustainability of the LYNCS project depends on the ongoing assessment of user needs and the ability to adapt services to meet them, as well as strong longterm partnerships among the entities that made the PPM library service point possible: CLP, the PPM community, and the University of Pittsburgh.

Regarding plans for the future, Krichten said,

I think we’ll do some rebranding of initiatives that already exist in schools and outreach. We are going to make a concerted effort to reach communities that don’t have library buildings. We want to listen to the community. Look at other service models, knowing a one-size-fits-all approach likely isn’t appropriate, considering the diversity of our city. High impact, low cost is the goal.

Krichten is pleased at the idea of other libraries following the example of the LYNCS project, but while she calls the events that came together to create the PPM point “serendipitous,” she doesn’t think there’s a great deal of difficulty in other libraries following through with a similar plan:

Think big, then figure out how to do it. Keep the customer at the center of your decision-making. Make connections wherever you can . . . Find things on the cheap just like you might if you were furnishing your first apartment. A carpet remnant from a contract flooring warehouse was our flooring, we assembled the furniture ourselves, our “dynamic signage” is just a combination bulletin/chalkboard. Think about the aesthetic of the space you’re working in. For us, raw wood and neutral colors were important because that’s the aesthetic of [PPM].

In the end, as with any worthwhile project, creating a new service model for a community public library requires thinking big, being creative, and having the drive and perseverance to see it through.

References

  1. Bob Dylan, “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),” recorded Jan. 15, 1965, Columbia Recording Studios, New York City.
  2. Ledyard King and Robert Benincasa, “Libraries Adapted to Digital Age,” USA Today, July 28, 2008, accessed Nov. 16, 2011.
  3. Neighbors in the Strip homepage, accessed Nov. 16, 2011.
  4. Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, “Mission & Vision,” accessed Nov. 16, 2011.
  5. ———, “For the People, By the People: Engaging Our Community in Literacy and Learning: Strategic Plan 2007–2011” (2006), accessed Apr. 20, 2011.
  6. Prashant Gopal, “Some Cities Will Be Safer in a Recession,” BusinessWeek, Oct. 14, 2008, accessed Nov. 16, 2011.
  7. Melinda Tanner, “More of the Same,” Washington District Libraries, Dec. 5, 2010, accessed Apr. 14, 2011.
  8. Molly Krichten, e-mail interview with the author, Apr. 21, 2011.
  9. Michael A. Keller, Victoria A. Reich, and Andrew C. Herkovic, “What Is a Library Anymore, Anyway?” First Monday 8, no. 5 (May 2003).
  10. David Fergusson, “Counterpoint: If Libraries Don’t Change, They Won’t Be the Place to Get the Books,” North Carolina Libraries 62, no. 1 (Winter 2004): 27–29.
  11. Suzanne Thinnes, “Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Public Market—A Deliciously Useful Combination,” Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh press release, Apr. 6, 2011.
  12. Merriam-Webster Online, s.v. “library,”accessed Apr. 15, 2011.
  13. Cambridge Dictionaries Online, s.v. “library,” accessed Apr. 15, 2011.


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