Andrew Carnegie: Foremost Friend of the Library
Special to the Sierra Sun
What would you do if you had more money than you could spend during your lifetime? Faced with that problem, Andrew Carnegie decided that he would invest in establishing free public libraries around the world – 2509 different libraries to be exact.
Carnegie, who was born in Scotland in 1835, moved to the United States with his family when he was 13, and began working long hours in a cotton mill. After a series of jobs with Western Union and the Pennsylvania Railroad, he started the Carnegie Steel Company, which he sold for $480 million when he was 65 years old.
Believing the wealthy had an obligation to use their money to benefit the community, Carnegie began to give money away when he was in his 30s, and continued to establish trusts and make philanthropic gifts throughout his life. Why his interest in libraries? When he was working long hours as a boy, a member of his community started a small library of books to loan to the young people of the town.
With no access to education, Carnegie relied solely on those books to educate himself. The experience, for which he was forever grateful, established his conviction that a public library offers everyone equal access to cultural opportunities.
There were only a handful of public libraries in the world when the first Carnegie Library was built in his home town of Dunfermline, Scotland, in 1881. The gift was so well received Carnegie proceeded to build free public libraries around the world.
The United States accounted for 1,681 libraries at a cost of $41,233,853. In some cases, Carnegie endowed libraries. In others, towns were required to subsidize their libraries by what came to be known as the “Carnegie Formula” ” an amount which equaled at least 10 percent of the cost of the library building. Almost 150 cities and towns in California were the lucky recipients of Carnegie Libraries.
In our Nevada County Library System, the Doris Foley Library, built in 1907 in Nevada City, is a Carnegie Library. It became a reference and research library only when the Madelyn Helling Library opened in 1991 to house the rest of the collection.
Over the course of his lifetime, Carnegie gave away $333 million to support the arts, education, and community groups. But libraries were by far the biggest recipients of his generosity. Although some of the Carnegie library buildings have become art centers, museums, visitor centers, and community centers, many still house public libraries, serving as community gathering places which offer all residents a world of possibilities.
c. Walt Disney
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On Tuesday, December 18, at 7 p.m at the Library, the group will discuss Elizabeth Gilbert’s book “Eat, Pray. Love.” Participants at the book group meeting will receive a coupon for 15 percent off a one-time book purchase at the Bookshelf at Hooligan Rocks. Everyone is welcome.
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Note: Toddlertime and Babes in Bookland are on hiatus until the New Year.
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Stories, songs, and fingerplays in Spanish and English
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“Open to All: What the Library Means to Me”, an anthology of library memories by residents of Nevada County. Proceeds will go toward the purchase of books for the Nevada County library branches.
Portraits by Truckee artist Raphael Jolly
Over the fireplace: “The Neighborhood,” painting by Carole Sesko
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