New PittCat and expanded digital offerings keeping library busy


Even though the University Library System’s physical buildings have been closed to the public since March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, library staff are working to accommodate the Pitt community as much as possible.

Jeff Wisniewski, the library’s director of communications and web services, said the new library catalog, PittCat, will officially roll out to the public by the end of July. This will update Pitt’s more than 20-year-old catalog system to be more streamlined and efficient. Additionally, the ULS’s main webpage will be redesigned at the end of the month.

So far, the library staff who have been able to work with the new PittCat are enjoying the system, Wisniewski said.

"It's a vast improvement, and we are very thrilled," Wisniewski said.

Operating during a pandemic

Library leadership has been making extensive contingency plans for operating during the pandemic — including preparing for when the libraries are open to the public again. 

Hillman Library has had about half of its physical seats, chairs and tables removed in an attempt to de-densify, Wisniewski said, and half of the library’s roughly 180 employees are back working in physical spaces.

Employees who work in the building are given masks and other safety equipment in line with the University’s pandemic guidance. New signage encourages social distancing.

Since the libraries have been closed to the public, the ULS has implemented a curbside pickup operation for patrons and has extended the deadlines for checked out materials to Sept. 20.

Additionally, the ULS has expanded its digital catalog with requested chapters from books and increased the number of e-books available. Nearly 50 percent of the print book collection is temporarily available online through a partnership with HathiTrust.

The library also has shifted much of its in-person programming to online webinars. Plans for the library’s Faculty Book Talk Series are still being worked out but will be transferred online. 

Pitt-affiliated researchers, faculty and staff can schedule an appointment at the ULS’s Thomas Boulevard location to view special collections and other archived materials that can’t be physically removed from the library.

Additional information about the library’s adjusted services is available here.

Hillman renovations

As for the ongoing Hillman Library construction, the third floor was mostly finished in March when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the library to shut down, Wisniewski said. Since then, workers have been back in the building to finish things up.

Library leadership is still planning the redesigns of the first, second and ground floors; however, because of the evolving nature of the pandemic, it’s unclear when construction will restart. The full renovations were initially expected to be complete in 2021 or 2022.

Cup and Chaucer on the ground floor of Hillman Library was slated to have a new look and new management by the fall. Saxby’s, based in Philadelphia, signed a deal in February to partner with Pitt’s College of Business Administration to employ two undergraduate business students each semester as Student Cafe Executive Officers to run Cup and Chaucer and the Cathedral Coffee stand.

Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at or 412-383-9905.


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