Braddock Carnegie Library

photo by: Joseph/Flickr/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

March 12, 2018

Wander the Bookstacks at These Carnegie Libraries

  • By: Lauren Walser

One man’s love of libraries brought more than 1,600 of them to the United States in the late 19th- and early 20th- centuries.

Andrew Carnegie moved to Allegheny, Pennsylvania, from Scotland with his family in 1848. He spent his youth not in school, but working at a local mill, a telegraph company, and, later, the railroad. But in his free time, he would read books he borrowed from the small library set up by a retired merchant in town. Through this experience, he developed not only his love of learning, but his opinion that everyone should have access to books.

Carnegie went on to become one of the wealthiest and most successful industrialists of his day. After amassing his fortune, Carnegie turned his focus to philanthropy. He helped to fund museums, colleges, nonprofit organizations, and, perhaps most notably, libraries. He donated millions to cities and towns across the world, operating on the belief that libraries were essential to all communities. The first Carnegie library to open in the United States was the Braddock Carnegie Library in Braddock, Pennsylvania (pictured above).

These libraries varied in size and style. Most were smaller buildings, with simple designs. Carnegie and his secretary, James Bertram, created a pamphlet to distribute to the towns receiving library grants, which outlined basic guidelines for their layout. They urged each library to have some kind of auditorium or community center, as Carnegie believed libraries were important community gathering places.

Over time, many towns came to outgrow their small Carnegie-funded libraries and moved to newer, bigger buildings. Some of those early Carnegie libraries have been demolished. Others have been repurposed as museums or city halls or restaurants. But many remain places for patrons to wander the bookstacks.

You may have read about some of these libraries in the Winter 2018 issue of Preservation magazine. Here, we show you a few more Carnegie libraries that are still beloved by their communities.

Lauren Walser headshot

Lauren Walser served as the Los Angeles-based field editor of Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about art, architecture, and public space, and hopes to one day restore her very own Arts and Crafts-style bungalow.

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