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Carnegie Library's Downtown Pittsburgh Branch Reopens After Expansion

It’s a new chapter for the Downtown branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. Closed for 14 months for a renovation, the facility reopens this week with a much larger footprint and new features including dedicated spaces for children and teens.

The $5.3 million makeover and expansion leaves the branch, on Smithfield Street, looking much the same on the outside, in the same building it’s occupied since 2004. But inside, it’s a different story.

“The thing you would probably notice right off the top is that it’s much, much bigger,” said Taylor Lee, the branch’s library-services manager. The impression is heightened by the new two-story-tall foyer.

With an expanded first floor and brand new second floor, the library is nearly 70 percent larger, for a total of 21,400 square feet. The second floor is accessible by elevator or grand staircase. There, the children’s space includes books, toys and a room for events. The TeenSpace include a recording booth for projects including podcasts and music-making. There are also expanded adult meeting rooms, said Lee. A below-ground space that housed meeting rooms and some of the branch’s stacks is no longer part of the library.

The spaces are important because four high schools and an elementary school are located nearby, and for the teens who pass through Downtown daily on public transit, the library said in a statement.

The library’s lendable laptops for in-house use, meanwhile, aren’t new – but there is more room to use them. The expansion “really gives us a lot of space to spread out,” Lee said. “People can enjoy the space a little bit more. We’re not right on top of each other.”

In all, it should be a boon to a branch that before the renovation shutdown was among the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s busiest, averaging more than 1,000 visitors a day.

The renovation was designed by Pittsburgh-based Karen Loysen + Kreuthmeier architect. It was funded by gifts from foundations, individuals, corporations, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania through the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program.

While the branch was closed, patrons were at first served by a temporary branch located across Smithfield Street. But six weeks later, the coronavirus pandemic struck, and Downtown was without a branch until this month.

The renovated library is already open for curbside service. It opens to in-person visitors April 20, but hours and services will be limited for now due to the pandemic.

The library will be open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and noon-7 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays. Patrons are permitted one visit daily of up to one hour. Occupancy is limited to 25 percent of the building’s legal capacity, or about 97 people.

Bill O'Driscoll: bodriscoll@wesa.fm

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Bill is a long-time Pittsburgh-based journalist specializing in the arts and the environment. Previous to working at WESA, he spent 21 years at the weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, the last 14 as Arts & Entertainment editor. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and in 30-plus years as a journalist has freelanced for publications including In Pittsburgh, The Nation, E: The Environmental Magazine, American Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bill has earned numerous Golden Quill awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. He lives in the neighborhood of Manchester, and he once milked a goat. Email: bodriscoll@wesa.fm