You almost can hear the knowledge exploding in Andrew Medlar’s head when the newest president and director of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh – an Ohio-bred bibliophile who comes to the Steel City via New York Public Library – unfurls his resume.
At 16 years old, he shelved books and, later, worked in circulation as a page at Dayton Metro Library. He got his first professional post in Brooklyn before moving on to Chicago Public Library, where he ascended to senior leadership. In his most recent job at New York Public Library, he led shared service efforts in book operations.
Medlar, now 49, received his Master’s degree in library sciences from Rutgers University in New Jersey – and the scholar in him is quick to pick apart the degree’s name.
“Yes, there is a science to libraries – there’s also a lot of art,” Medlar says. “But what there is more of is service.”
Medlar comes to Andrew Carnegie’s hometown library with expectations.
An extensive national search took six months to deliberate over who would become Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s 12th president and director in its 126-year history. Its Board of Trustees in April voted unanimously for Medlar, whom they called “an internationally recognized visionary library leader.”
“We’re pretty excited and we think we’re off to a good start,” Patrick Dowd, chairman of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Board of Trustees, says. “We had a lot of qualified candidates – they would have helped us in many ways – but Andrew Medlar had the right mix.”
What does a library leader do to get ready for their first days on the job in Pittsburgh? He reads Andrew Carnegie’s autobiography, of course.
“It’s about sharing library services – Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is such a strong library with amazingly talented and experienced and dedicated staff,” Medlar says. “So much great work happens here – let’s share that.
“My vision is building on the strengths of this amazing place and its amazing people.”
Medlar is no stranger to Pittsburgh.
When growing up, he remembers driving with family from Dayton to Pittsburgh – three tolls each way – to visit his cousins. His mentor, an Indiana-born librarian who crossed paths with Medlar in Dayton, got her Master’s degree in library sciences from the University of Pittsburgh.
Today, Medlar and his husband, who works in public relations, have settled in the Strip District and are getting to know the city. He recalls an early day in Pittsburgh this spring when he enjoyed an Old Fashioned at a patio bar in his neighborhood.
“I really enjoy the sound of birds chirping rather than taxis honking,” he says. “New York is a wonderful place but I’m so happy to be here.”
Little known fact: Medlar is a devotee of the World Book encyclopedia series, which he started reading religiously when he received a set for Christmas one year. When he got the Pittsburgh job, Medlar said he looked up the word “library” in an old World Book – and was surprised by the similarities, then and now, of the mission.
“Our core work of literacy and learning and programming and books is the same – it’s about doing these things in innovative ways,” Medlar says. “For me, this is a profession. And a passion. And a life.”
To that end, Medlar says it’s important that Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s main location in Oakland and its 19 branch locations throughout the city have individual character but also are held to the same standards.
He even sees that calling in the work of diversity, equity and inclusion.
“For me, it’s about making sure every single one of our neighborhoods has access to the information and learning they deserve,” he says.
Tish Wilson got to know Medlar when she worked as the children’s librarian at the Trotwood, Ohio, branch of the Dayton Metro Library system between 1980 and 1984.
The two had early conversations about Wilson’s career and libraries in general; over the years, as Medlar entered library work, they attended conferences together and became close peers in the field.
“I had thought he’d go into library work because he maintained his closeness to libraries,” Wilson says. “The next thing I know, he’s in a library and he’s specializing in children’s work.”
Wilson says she was the second person Medlar called when receiving word of the Board of Trustees’ vote – after his parents. His mentor was especially touched by Medlar’s newest home because she is a self-described Pittsburgh aficionado who remembers taking books out of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Oakland location when she was studying at Pitt.
“I knew Andrew would achieve great things because of his mental capacity, as well as his people skills and common sense,” she says. “I knew whatever he set his mind to, he’d achieve.”