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.