For National Library Week, a literary history lesson. Book lovers, you’ll be glad you know this stuff.
A year or so ago I posted this picture to my instagram:
It’s a shot of an old building on Cherokee Road, in Louisville. If you look closing, you can see the words “PUBLIC LIBRARY” etched above the doorframe. (Although it isn’t a library anymore, it’s office space. Wouldn’t you love to work here?)
I’d passed by this building—and several more like it in my town—for years, but I didn’t realize what I was looking at until a commenter filled me in. This is a classic Carnegie library, and it’s one of more than 2500 built between 1883 and 1929. About 2/3 of those are in the U.S.
Andrew Carnegie donated heaps of money to blanket the U.S. with libraries, thus the name. This was a big deal: CityLab says Carnegie did no less than build the architecture of American literacy with his 1689 libraries, thanks to the scope and timing of the project.
Carnegie had a lifelong passion for books and reading, and he was a savvy businessman. He donated the money and required communities to adhere to the Carnegie formula, a 6-step plan to ensure the community would support the library (by providing the site, paying staff, and using public funds to run it), and the library would in return support the community (by providing free service to all).
Not all Carnegie libraries look like the ones in my community—not by a long shot. It’s impossible to tell by looking whether or not a library was built with Carnegie funds, although many Carnegie libraries look quite similar, because they share the same guiding philosophy and relief on the same sample templates provided by Carnegie. To see if you have a Carnegie library in your community, check this list of all the Carnegie libraries in the U.S. I was surprised to discover my own community has nine—many of which are still in use as libraries.
Check out the list, see if you have one in your town, and tell us about your visits to/knowledge about/experiences with Carnegie libraries in comments.