What’s a Carnegie Library?

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Andrew Carnegie was a successful businessman who believed in the importance of reading and education. He built over 1600 public libraries in the United States and the UK, with impressive architectural designs and an open stack style. These libraries were available to the public and part of universities. Carnegie’s philanthropic program built over 1900 libraries, with about half remaining as library buildings today. His program was successful due to public interest in having a library available.

Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) was one of the most successful businessmen in America. Alternately called a captain of industry or a thief baron, he had little training, but his “booted” approach to life earned him millions of dollars, before finally retiring in the early 1900s and focusing entirely on philanthropy. As with his approach to business, his philanthropic approach was no-holds-barred and extraordinarily broad, and one of his exploits, the invention of the Carnegie Library, can still be found in many places today as an example of his generosity in his age. advanced.

Carnegie had always felt that the importance of reading could not be underestimated and had used whatever resources he could to gain more information and education as he grew up in business. He believed that most people should have access to books on a large scale and began building public libraries in 1883, the first in his hometown in Scotland.

Although there would have been many Carnegie-funded and built libraries in the UK, the majority, over 1600, were built in the United States, often in small towns. These buildings were architecturally impressive and designed in many different styles. Most were simply open to the public, but some were also part of universities. Virtually every state in the United States ended up with at least one Carnegie Library, with the exception of Alaska, Delaware and Rhode Island, and some states had huge numbers. Indiana had the big, and California placed in second place.

One of the key features of a Carnegie Library was the open stack style. This meant that people could select their books by browsing, instead of asking a librarian to recommend or stock them with books. The various architectural structures of these libraries were impressive but also inviting. A public library in a city might be a place people wanted to go and wanted to use, and Carnegie tested most cities to determine whether he or his philanthropic organizations would build a library there. The basic test was the demonstration of necessity, a pledge to spend certain funds to maintain the library, and the donation of property on which to build the Carnegie library.

People may still be familiar with these libraries today because about half of them remain library buildings. Some have not survived things like retrofitting, and others have become museums or even private buildings. The last library built under Carnegie’s program was completed in 1930, several years after the philanthropist’s death.

The timing for the construction of each Carnegie library was auspicious. Many small and large cities were very interested in building public libraries in the late 19th century. Carnegie’s generosity was matched by public interest in having a library available. In all, this philanthropist’s program has built over 19 libraries, a considerable achievement. Anyone who still has one in a city is certainly invited to visit them often and marvels at the determination that it can change philanthropy as easily as it can contribute to success in business.

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