Sunday, June 21, 2020

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.

All you have to do is look up.
This collection of five brand new romances is sure to send your heart soaring. Journey from Canada to Georgia and Colorado to Paris by way of Michigan as these couples find love is in the air. All they had to do was look up.

Flying Into Love by Kathleen Rouser:

Unable to say no when others need her, Talia Sampson took on her deceased aunt’s advice column and the care of her special needs niece. Then new veteran, Ben Tanner, shows up unexpected on her doorstep. Hurt many times, he wonders where home is. Talia isn’t happy finding a hot-air balloon with him, but she treasures the old journal with it. Ben hopes restoring her family’s antique will please her, until he discovers a secret that shatters his trust. And Talia hates flying.

Will she trust God—and Ben—enough to go airborne?


  1. Wonderful post. I learned about the Carnegie libraries several years ago when happen to speak at one. There are nine in New Hampshire where I live, all built between 1902 and 1907.

    1. Thank you, Linda. I'm glad you liked the post so much! We had over 50 Carnegie libraries in Michigan at one time. Some have been demolished and others turned
      into museums, art centers, civic buildings, and businesses, though the majority
      are still libraries. I didn't know about the historic libraries until I became
      a patron of one.

  2. Thanks for posting, I'm going to Google Carnegie Libraries to see if there are any in Maine or Vermont.

    1. So I found out there are 5 in Vermont, which I've never seen. But Maine has a few more, and one happens to be the town across the river which we have access to!!! Very cool!

    2. Hi Connie R.! Thanks for stopping by. That's cool that you found one of these historic libraries not too far away. I hope you will have fun visiting it across the river. I had been to the beautiful main library in Detroit, and didn't realize it was a Carnegie library until I moved out farther and learned about the Howell Library. Then I came across the location of the 50+ libraries here in Michigan, alone, in my research.

  3. I live in Louisville Kentucky and I can't remember the exact number of Carnegie that we had at one time. But I do know that at least three are still working libraries today. Including our Western branch which was the first African American library staff by African Americans that also trained African Americans to be librarians.