1 March 2022 Susannah

Book Addict Visits a Library – Dunfermline Carnegie Library

Dunfermline Carnegie Library

Between 1883 and 1929 2,509 libraries were built with money provided by wealthy businessman Andrew Carnegie.

The very first was in his birthplace, Dunfermline in Scotland. Towns around the world could request a grant from Carnegie, and had to commit to his terms for maintenance and operation. There are Carnegie libraries in the USA, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, NZ, South Africa, Serbia, Belgium, France, the Caribbean, Mauritius, Malaysia and Fiji. Aspiring applicants had to fill out a questionnaire, giving the size of the town’s population, the number of books already collected, and information about a possible site. Carnegie believed in giving to those who would also put in some effort, not just sit back and take funding. Books were hugely important to Carnegie. His father had helped establish a Tradesman’s library and, when he reached America, Carnegie happily borrowed from a Colonel James Anderson who, every Saturday, opened his personal book collection to his workers. Later Carnegie established the Anderson Memorial Library in Kansas.

The Dunfermline Carnegie Library was opened in August, 1883 (the event was so significant that a public holiday was declared on opening day) and was designed by architect James Campbell Walker. The foundation stone was laid by Margaret Carnegie, Andrew’s mother. 250 people applied for the position of librarian (the job came with a flat), and soon an extension to the building was required because the library proved so popular.

There have been major renovations recently and today the library has an art gallery attached, so the back of the building is strikingly modern. It is many years since I visited it, so I’d love to go back and see what a difference the renovations have made.

Carnegie gave £8,000 for this library. What a gift he gave the world, with all the buildings, books and millions of hours of reading pleasure. He made his fortune from steel and became one of the richest Americans in history, but he knew how to spend his money well and his philanthropy with libraries enriched the world.

Have you visited a Carnegie Library? Tell me by leaving a comment here.

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Featured image credit- Flickriver, https://www.flickriver.com/photos/fifelibrariesmuseums/
Body image credit- Dunfermline’s Carnegie Library named building of the year, https://www.scotsman.com/whats-on/arts-and-entertainment/dunfermlines-carnegie-library-named-building-year-1451448
Body image credit- Dunfermline’s Carnegie Library interior, https://www.onfife.com/venues/dunfermline-carnegie-library/
Body image credit- Dunfermline Carnegie Library was first opened in 1883 and closed from 2014-2017 while the new building was constructed at its rear, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-edinburgh-east-fife-41900443

Comments (8)

  1. Anne Willaims

    Such an amazing man! I had heard of Carnegie but didn’t know about his life and wonderful devotion to philanthropy.
    I’m sorry I missed going to his library in Dunfermline in Scotland and sorry to say I haven’t been to any others.
    I listened to his speech and applauded his ideas. Wonder what the world would be like now if other billionaires did half of what Carnegie accomplished. Thank you Susannah for adding to my education. I am also looking forward to your next Trailblazers.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Yes, some of the super rich today spend their money on several luxury yachts. What an amazing thing Carnegie did in creating libraries that would enrich so many generations.
      Great to have you booked for another Trailblazers, Anne. Thanks for the support.

  2. Margaret Clingan Wright

    Hi Susannah,
    Yes, Carnegie was quite a man!
    I was interested that Jennifer Chapman mentioned a Carnegie library in Suva!
    When I visit London, I stay with a close friend in Herne Hill. On her designated evenings, I would accompany her as an extra tutor of English to migrants and refugees, all the classes being held in the nearby Carnegie library. It is a lovely hub for people, and a safe place. She is a ‘Friend of Carnegie Library’. It is Grade 2 listed, built in 1906, and like all the Carnegie buildings, has fine architecture. The local council threatened to close it, and apparently residents were not allowed to put up signs protesting, so everyone put up notices inside the windows in their own houses to protest about it. The council did close the library in 2015 , but there were such on-going protests from students, seniors, authors and the residents, that in 2018 it was reopened, but with reduced funding.

    And Margaret’s Chapel in Edinburgh – being named Margaret, I am entitled to place flowers on the altar.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I did not know that Margarets had that privilege.
      I was really interested in the Carnegie Library – such places should NOT be closed! It is clearly being used and enjoyed by a new generation. Such places, as Carnegie knew, are so badly needed.

  3. Donna Fletcher Crow

    I grew up going to the Carnegie library in my home town in Idaho. I was so interested to read that Andrew Carnegie was from Dunfermline because that was the location of the first church Queen Margaret built. I visited the site before writing my book about her–as I did her chapel at Edinburgh Castle as well–which I was delighted to see in your post about Scottish Trailblazers. Can’t wait for the series!

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I also love Queen Margaret’s Chapel in the castle. So glad my piece on Carnegie libraries brought back happy memories for you. He was an amazing man!

  4. jennifer Chapman

    The first library I entered when I was a child, more than 70 years ago, was the Carnegie Library in Suva. My mother was a great reader and visited it weekly. I remember I loved two books in particular, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. They were large, square format the print in two columns and the illustrations were dramatic black and white woodcuts. Years later I found them still in the library but suffering from the tropical heat and heavily stained and not the size I remembered! I loved that Library.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      It was so lovely to hear of your memories of a Carnegie library. Thanks for sharing them. And Bronte novels featuring so largely was also fabulous.

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