Black History Month Profile: Getting the Word Out

Issue Date: 
February 11, 2013

Even as an eight-year-old girl, Crystal McCormick felt at home in a library. Several times a week, the young McCormick would visit the venerable Carnegie Library of Homestead, where she participated in a medley of activities. As a young flute and piccolo player, McCormick would perform at concerts—or sing with her choral group—in the library’s grand music hall. There was a pool for her weekly swim lessons, an athletic club for twice-weekly gymnastic classes, and the books—oh, the books! As often as she could, McCormick would find her way to the children’s room, curl up with a good book—and check out an armload to carry home.

Now, decades later, McCormick has an office in Hillman Library, where she is surrounded by books, periodicals, and librarians. It’s “a dream come true,” says McCormick, who for the past eight years has served as the director of marketing, communications, and diversity initiatives for Pitt’s University Library System (ULS). It’s a big job to promote the ULS, which is the nation’s 22nd-largest academic library system, comprising14 libraries and 6.6 million volumes.

In addition to her other duties, McCormick works with human resources personnel to identify diverse candidates for job openings within the system. ULS is seeing its highest number of underrepresented student employees in recent years. And McCormick routinely conducts diversity workshops for faculty and staff.

McCormick’s efforts within the Pitt community and beyond have garnered much attention. The New Pittsburgh Courier named her one of its 50 Women of Excellence in 2011. And last month, Pitt’s Omicron Chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity awarded McCormick its Centennial Award for “the many positive contributions to her profession and community.” The award was presented during the fraternity’s centennial celebration and McCormick was the only female recipient.

McCormick was one of Alpha Phi Alpha’s “little sisters” when she was a freshman at Duquesne University; she is an officer in the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Pittsburgh Alumnae Chapter. McCormick had been part of the Omicron’s Centennial Committee and helped to plan this year’s gala. She also spearheaded the creation of an exhibition in the Hillman Library lobby to showcase the fraternity chapter’s highlights and century-old history. But news of the award was a surprise. 
“I was at a loss for words when I received the phone call,” McCormick said. 

McCormick has also served as a community volunteer and a board member for several agencies, including the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum. She has also received commendations from the American Library Association for various projects, including her team winning a Best of Show Award for the ULS web team’s holiday card series during one competition.

McCormick holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in education from Duquesne University, where she worked as an assistant director of admissions for six years. She moved on to head two nonprofit agencies—The Fund for the Advancement of Minorities through Education (FAME), which prepares young people for college, and Urban Youth Action, Inc., which readies students for college, employment, and public service. But she said she missed being in a university setting and, just as she was finishing up a stint with Leadership Pittsburgh, she found her place at Pitt in 2001. First, she worked as director of the University Community Career Development Partnership Project within Pitt’s School of Social Work. She began her current ULS position in 2005.

“With my admissions background, convincing people to come to a particular college, and then as a nonprofit director, raising money and convincing people a program is worth funding—it’s the same persuasive skills I’m now using to market the services of the library system,” she said.

And market she does, always looking for opportunities to educate members of the Pitt community about ULS’s many services and offerings. She is working with Alpha Phi Alpha, for example, to help archive the fraternity’s historical materials in ULS’s large storage facility on Thomas Boulevard in Point Breeze. McCormick hopes to persuade other Greek-letter organizations to do the same. 

The first ULS Media Day, which McCormick organized last fall, was well attended and a big success. Pitt deans, directors, and other staffers learned about the library’s services, ranging from the lending of laptops to offering new spaces where graduate students can work on their dissertations and keep materials under lock and key. In addition, at McCormick’s urging, librarians have become academic department specialists, serving as special liaisons for faculty members and students. 

Plans are already being made for a special Fall 2013 Open House to be called “Late Night at the Library.” Visitors will experience the stately Hillman Library springing to life after dark with interesting sights, sounds, and interactive displays.

“Crystal has a keen sense of what students need from the libraries,” said Rush Miller, University Librarian and ULS director “She is a strong advocate for us with a number of groups within and beyond the University. And she cares about the libraries and the people with whom she works every day.”

To de-stress during her workday, McCormick slips on her iPod and walks a brisk four miles at lunch. In the evenings and on weekends, she can be spotted shuttling her 15-year-old daughter, Madison, to lacrosse practice, dance lessons, or the Investing Now college-prep program within Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. 

At home, McCormick continues her lifelong habit of curling up with a good book—romance novels and nonfiction, for the most part. But her favorite collection comprises small books and pamphlets on etiquette, including some tattered ones from the 1950s. “My mother gave me an etiquette book when I was a little girl, and I just became fixated with it,” McCormick said. “And now . . . I have my own etiquette library.”