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A Carnegie library is a library built with money donated by Scottish-American businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. A total of 2,509 Carnegie libraries were built between 1883 and 1929, including some belonging to public and university library systems. 1,689 were built in the United States, 660 in Britain and Ireland, 125 in Canada, and others in Australia, New Zealand, Serbia, the Caribbean, Mauritius and Fiji.
Few towns that requested a grant and agreed to his terms were refused. When the last grant was made in 1919, there were 3,500 libraries in the United States, nearly half of them built with construction grants paid by Carnegie.
The first of Carnegie's public libraries opened in his hometown, Dunfermline, Scotland, in 1883. The locally quarried sandstone building displays a stylised sun with a carved motto - "Let there be light" at the entrance. His first library in the United States was built in 1889 in Braddock, Pennsylvania, home to one of the Carnegie Steel Company's mills. Initially Carnegie limited his support to a few towns in which he had an interest. From the 1890s on, his foundation funded a dramatic increase in number of libraries. This coincided with the rise of women's clubs in the post-Civil War period, which were most responsible for organizing efforts to establish libraries, including long-term fundraising and lobbying within their communities to support operations and collections. They led the establishment of 75-80 percent of the libraries in communities across the country.
Carnegie believed in giving to the "industrious and ambitious; not those who need everything done for them, but those who, being most anxious and able to help themselves, deserve and will be benefited by help from others." Under segregation black people were generally denied access to public libraries in the Southern United States. Rather than insisting on his libraries being racially integrated, he funded separate libraries for African Americans. For example, at Houston he funded a separate Colored Carnegie Library.
Most of the library buildings were unique, constructed in a number of styles, including Beaux-Arts, Italian Renaissance, Baroque, Classical Revival, and Spanish Colonial. Scottish Baronial was one of the styles used in Carnegie's native Scotland. Each style was chosen by the community, although as the years went by James Bertram, Carnegie's secretary, became less tolerant of designs which were not to his taste. Edward Lippincott Tilton, a friend often recommended by Bertram, designed many of the buildings. The architecture was typically simple and formal, welcoming patrons to enter through a prominent doorway, nearly always accessed via a staircase. The entry staircase symbolized a person's elevation by learning. Similarly, outside virtually every library was a lamppost or lantern, meant as a symbol of enlightenment.
In the early 20th century, a Carnegie library was often the most imposing structure in hundreds of small American communities.
Detail of the entrance to the Carnegie Library in Avondale, Cincinnati (1902) (Spanish colonial style).
Carnegie Library, Waupun, Wisconsin.
The Carnegie Library in Union, Oregon.
Carnegie Library building in Davenport, IA.(1889-1966)
Books and libraries were important to Carnegie, beginning with his childhood in Scotland. There he listened to readings and discussions of books from the Tradesman's Subscription Library, which his father helped create. Later, in the United States, while working for the local telegraph company in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, Carnegie borrowed books from the personal library of Colonel James Anderson, who opened the collection to his workers every Saturday.
In his autobiography, Carnegie credited Anderson with providing an opportunity for "working boys" (that some said should not be "entitled to books") to acquire the knowledge to improve themselves. Carnegie's personal experience as an immigrant, who with help from others worked his way into a position of wealth, reinforced his belief in a society based on merit, where anyone who worked hard could become successful. This conviction was a major element of his philosophy of giving in general, and of his libraries as its best known expression.
Nearly all of Carnegie's libraries were built according to "The Carnegie Formula", which required financial commitments from the town that received the donation. Carnegie required public support rather than making endowments because "an endowed institution is liable to become the prey of a clique. The public ceases to take interest in it, or, rather, never acquires interest in it. The rule has been violated which requires the recipients to help themselves. Everything has been done for the community instead of its being only helped to help itself."
Carnegie required recipients to:
Carnegie assigned the decisions to his assistant James Bertram. He created a "Schedule of Questions." The schedule included: Name, status and population of town, Does it have a library? Where is it located and is it public or private? How many books? Is a town-owned site available?
One of the requirements was the willingness of people and government to raise taxes to support the library. Money was not given all at once but disbursed gradually as the project went on. Records were kept on a "Daily Register of Donations." The 1908 Daily register of donations, for example, has 10–20 entries each day. Every day that year, money was disbursed for libraries and church organs in the US and Britain.
The amount of money donated to most communities was based on U.S. Census figures and averaged approximately $2 per person. Many communities were eager for the chance to build public institutions. James Bertram, Carnegie's personal secretary who ran the program, was never without requests.
The impact of Carnegie's library philanthropy was maximized by his timing. His offers came at a peak of town development and library expansion in the US. By 1890, many states had begun to take an active role in organizing public libraries, and the new buildings filled a tremendous need. Interest in libraries was also heightened at a crucial time in their early development by Carnegie's high profile and his genuine belief in their importance.
In Canada in 1901 Carnegie offered more than $2.5 million to build 125 libraries. Most cities at first turned him down—then relented and took the money.
The design of the Carnegie libraries has been given credit[who?] for encouraging communication with the librarian. It also created an opportunity for people to browse and discover books on their own. "The Carnegie libraries were important because they had open stacks which encouraged people to browse....People could choose for themselves what books they wanted to read," according to Walter E. Langsam, an architectural historian and teacher at the University of Cincinnati. Before Carnegie, patrons had to ask a clerk to retrieve books from closed stacks.
Carnegie established charitable trusts which have continued his philanthropic work. However, even before his death they had reduced their involvement in the provision of libraries. There has continued to be support for library projects, for example in South Africa.
In 1992, The New York Times reported that, according to a survey conducted by Dr. George Bobinksi, dean of the School of Information and Library Studies at the State University at Buffalo, 1,554 of the 1,681 original buildings in the United States still existed, with 911 still used as libraries. Two-hundred seventy six were unchanged, 286 had been expanded, and 175 had been remodeled. Two-hundred forty three had been demolished while others had been converted to other uses.
While hundreds of the library buildings have become museums, community centers, office buildings, residences, or are otherwise used, more than half of those in the United States still serve their communities as libraries over a century after their construction, many in middle- to low-income neighborhoods. For example, Carnegie libraries still form the nucleus of the New York Public Library system in New York City, with 31 of the original 39 buildings still in operation. Also, the main library and eighteen branches of the Pittsburgh public library system are Carnegie libraries. The public library system there is named the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.
In the late 1940s, the Carnegie Corporation of New York arranged for microfilming of the correspondence files relating to Andrew Carnegie's gifts and grants to communities for the public libraries and church organs. They then discarded the original materials. The microfilms are open for research as part of the Carnegie Corporation of New York Records collection, residing at Columbia University Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Archivists did not microfilm photographs and blueprints of the Carnegie Libraries. The number and nature of documents within the correspondence files varies widely. Such documents may include correspondence, completed applications and questionnaires, newspaper clippings, illustrations, and building dedication programs.
Beginning in the 1930s, some libraries were meticulously measured, documented and photographed under the Historic American Building Survey (HABS) program of the National Park Service, and other documentation has been collected by local historical societies. In 1935, the centennial of his Carnegie's birth, a copy of the portrait of him originally painted by F. Luis Mora was given to libraries he helped fund. Many of the Carnegie libraries in the United States, whatever their current uses, have been recognized by listing on the National Register of Historic Places. The first of these, in Braddock, Pennsylvania, was designated a National Historic Landmark in March 2012.
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