Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919)
"The best means of benefiting the community is to place within its reach the
ladders upon which the aspiring can rise."
"The fundamental advantage of a library is that it gives nothing for nothing.
Youths must acquire knowledge themselves."
In these and many other statements, the Scottish immigrant and self-educated
millionaire industrialist Andrew Carnegie acknowledged the importance of
libraries in his own life. He often cited the benefit he received from a
private library being made available once a week to the working boys of his
community. Earlier, his father and uncle were among those who started a
library for fellow linen weavers in their village of Dumfermline in Scotland.
While still a young man, but already financially successful, Carnegie began
to formulate a personal philosophy to distribute "surplus wealth" during
his lifetime. The rise of the great industrial fortunes following the Civil
War resulted in several models. These included the library philanthropy of
John Jacob Astor, John Lenox and Samuel Tilden in behalf of the New York City
library system and especially Enoch Pratt's Baltimore library philanthropy.
In 1889 Carnegie published an article entitled "Wealth," republished in 1900
as the title chapter of The Gospel of Wealth and Other Essays, in which he
formally and publicly set forth his philosophy of employing wealth in the
goal of helping people who were willing to help themselves.
Meanwhile, in 1881 Carnegie had made his first library gift, to his native
Dumfermline. Between 1886 and 1896, in what he later termed his "retail"
period of library philanthropy, he endowed several libraries in Pennsylvania
including towns where he had lived or established mills. These gifts were
typical of paternalistic philanthropy: a home town or principal residence of
the donor received a library, not requested but fully endowed, on a site
selected by the donor and dedicated with elaborate ceremony honoring the
Carnegie soon was receiving numerous requests as communities hoped that they
too might obtain a permanent building for their libraries, initiating what he
later called his "wholesale" period. After 1898, the Carnegie library
philanthropy began to assume the pattern that characterized it for its
duration. Libraries represented self education, so a library gift should
represent self help. Carnegie would provide the building but the community
must provide the land and tax support for the library.
As inquiries increased, Carnegie designated responsibility for the library
program to fellow Scotsman James Bertram, whom he had hired in 1897 to be his
personal secretary. Over the years Bertram increasingly formalized the
process, effectively insulating Carnegie from almost all petitioners.
When in 1900 he sold his steel holdings to what would become U.S. Steel,
Carnegie was free to pursue an array of interests. He became an active
participant in the search for world peace and met with world leaders. In
addition to funding library buildings and church organs, he advocated
simplified spelling, which he and Bertram used in all of their correspondence.
In 1911 Carnegie founded the Carnegie Corporation to handle his many philanthropies.
Carnegie, and his library program, had not been without detractors. Some
believed that the public library movement was expanding too rapidly,
propelled more by Carnegie's personal conviction than by public demand;
others, including cities with strong labor movements, were critical of the
source of Carnegie money. Some members of the emerging profession of
librarianship believed it inevitable that small libraries would be
inadequately staffed and lacking in literary and informational resources.
These views appeared in articles and speeches, in satire and cartoons.
In 1916 the Corporation Board of Trustees conducted an independent study
which noted the accomplishments of the program but advocated that in the
future more money should be provided for library service and less for
buildings. The war provided a convenient interruption in the granting of
funds, and the program was not resumed after the war, but libraries
previously approved received their grants and were completed.
Many of the other Carnegie programs continue today; some are still mentioned
frequently on the daily news, among them the Carnegie Hero Award, the
Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, the Carnegie Endowment
for International Peace. But although a relatively small part of the
Carnegie philanthropies, free public libraries are probably still the best