Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Gift of the Carnegie Libraries




When I first learned about one of our local libraries in Howell, Michigan, being a historical Carnegie library I was intrigued. I have since learned that Andrew Carnegie funded more than 2500 libraries around the world. 

Andrew Carnegie portrait by unknown
artist, {PD}
Andrew Carnegie is remembered for having a great role in the expansion of the steel industry in the United States and as a wealthy industrialist, but also as a philanthropist. His own personal philosophy was that the rich, once providing for their own needs, should think of their excess wealth as entrusted to them for the betterment of the community. His name lives on today for his charitable work.

A Scottish immigrant who came to America at a young age and settled in Allegheny, Pennsylvania with his family. He funded libraries in the two areas which had given him his start, first, one in Dunfermline, Scotland in 1880 and then in 1886, in Braddock, a town just outside of Pittsburgh. Carved into the sandstone above the entry to his first library were the words “Let there be light.” He remembered working as a bobbin boy and wanting to improve his lot in life, yet as a young teen, Carnegie couldn’t afford the two-dollar subscription to the lending library. As an older man he wanted to make them available to everyone. He would go on to fund the building of 1689 public libraries across the United States.      

The world's first Carnegie Library
in Dunfermline, Scotland, photo by
Stephen C. Dickson, 2014 [CC]
Though Carnegie didn’t insist that his libraries be racially integrated, he did build separate libraries for African Americans, in cities such as Houston, Texas and Savannah, Georgia. One bright spot was in the public library in Washington, D.C. for which he donated $300,000 to be built in 1903. The beautiful building is the city’s oldest public library and was open to all races from its start. 

When a town applied for the Carnegie grant for a public library, they had to establish certain criteria. Did the community demonstrate a need for a public library? Could they provide the land for it to be built on? Pay the staff? Carnegie expected each town to provide 10% of what he donated yearly to run and maintain the library. His funding wasn’t just a handout, but it was a hand up offered to those who would invest in the process and the library was to be available and open to all classes.

Carnegie Library in Washington, D.C.,
Mark Schierbecker, 2012, [CC],
Wikimedia Commons
In regards to our local Howell Carnegie District Library, once the community had outgrown library run by the Ladies’ Library Association, the postmaster wrote to Carnegie in 1901 requesting a donation for the building of a library. In January of 1902, Carnegie’s secretary sent a letter stating that $10,000 would be supplied for the library if the village could provide $1000 annually, as well as a suitable piece of land. After disagreements over building costs Carnegie gave them another $5000 and more funds were raised. The MacPherson family donated the land and an architecture firm in Ann Arbor was hired to complete the building. The library opened in 1906.

Howell Carnegie Library, by Aon25, 2012, [CC],
Wikimedia Commons

The last of the Carnegie libraries was built in 1929. Most of the beautiful brick or sandstone structures still endure today. A few have been torn down and some have been added onto. The Howell Carnegie District Library addition, while having many modern internal features, has tastefully incorporated the old-fashioned architecture and flavor of the original building. 

Carnegie Library, Guthrie, Oklahoma, by Steven C. Price,
2015, [CC], Wikimedia Commons
Andrew Carnegie has also been considered a controversial figure because of his labor practices, particularly because of the incident during the strike at Homestead Steel Works, when workers were killed under the watch of one of his supervisors, Henry Clay Frick. Yet, his legacy of generosity lives on across the United States in the form of these longstanding houses of knowledge and enrichment, known as the Carnegie libraries.




Kathleen Rouser is the award-winning author of Rumors and Promises, her first novel about the people of fictional Stone Creek, Michigan, and its sequel, Secrets and Wishes. Kathleen wanted to be a writer before she could even read. She lives in Michigan with her hero and husband, Jack, and the sassy tailless cat who found a home in their empty nest. Connect with Kathleen on her website at kathleenrouser.com, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/kathleenerouser/, and on Twitter @KathleenRouser.



17 comments:

  1. Great post. I discovered Carnegie libraries when I was doing a magazine article. New Hampshire is proud to have ten Carnegie libraries.

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    1. Hi Linda, thanks for your comment. Glad you enjoyed the post. I was amazed at the number of Carnegie libraries there are as I started researching them. I'm not sure how many there are in Michigan, but there
      are quite a few!

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  2. Fantastic post, Kathleen. I didn't realize Andrew Carnegie was behind so many Carnegie libraries. I'm going to have to research the history of our local Carnegie library. Several years ago it was added on to. Blessings.

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    1. Thank you, Marilyn! I didn't realize all that he'd accomplished building libraries either, until I sarted reading about them. Quite a legacy he left behind!

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  3. Thank you for an interesting post! There is a Carnegie library in my city, although the building is now a restaurant.

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    1. You're welcome, Linda! How interesting that they repurposed the library for a restaurant. The libraries were beautifully built and I'm sure it was worth renovating.

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  4. Very interesting. Love seeing the photos, too. :-)

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    1. Thank you, Melissa. There were so many photos of beautiful Carnegie libraries, I narrowed it down to
      a few. So glad you enjoyed what I did share.

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  5. Interesting post, Kathleen. We have a beautiful Carnegie library in Canon City, CO - 1909, I believe.

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    1. Thanks, Davalyn! Now I will have to look that one up in Canon City and see what it looks like. :) The photo of the library in Howell doesn't quite do it justice. Wish I'd had time to go take some pictures. It really is pretty.

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  6. Very interesting post Kathleen. Thank you for sharing. I really enjoyed the pictures.
    Blessings, Tina

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    1. You're welcome, Mrs. Tina. Glad you liked the pictures. As I shared above, there were quite a few. I chose two I'd mentioned and then one I thought was just a beautiful building. Here is a link to Wikimedia
      Commons where they have several more photos: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Carnegie_library

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    2. Oops, I should say I posted photos of three I mentioned, including the first Carnegie library, built in Scotland.

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  7. Replies
    1. You're welcome, Connie! Thanks for stopping by.

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  8. I loved reading about these libraries!

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