If you have read my other blog entitled “Iron Master Makes Gift”: Carnegie Library at Otterbein University, then skip the narrative below (as it is a repeat) and scroll to the pictures.
About Carnegie Free Public Libraries
Andrew Carnegie once said “the man who dies rich, dies disgraced.” And thus, the self-made Scottish immigrant who built Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Steel Company into the largest steel manufacturer in the world proceeded to give away his vast wealth.
The first free public library funded by a Carnegie grant opened in Fairfield, Iowa, in 1893 (still standing). Over the course of the next approximately 30 years an additional 1,688 libraries opened including 111 in Ohio (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Carnegie_libraries_in_Ohio). Of that total, 70% were built in towns with populations of 10,000 or fewer and for under $20,000 in cost. Grant amounts were based on $2-$3 per resident. Requirements to receive a grant included demonstrating need for a public library, providing a building site, and an ability to provide support and maintenance at an annual amount of 10% of the grant. At program’s end, there were 3,500 public libraries in the U.S. with half of those funded by Carnegie grants. Over 800 additional buildings were constructed in other countries.
When Carnegie’s grant program began, there were no architectural restrictions. Communities designed buildings that had excessive waste (at the expense of the intended use) such as grand entry halls, colonnades, marble trim, vaulted domes, rooms devoted to art or other non-library purpose, etc. By 1904, Carnegie’s private secretary James Bertram began reviewing blueprints to ensure functional library layouts that avoided such waste. Later, he prepared a pamphlet suggesting 6 floor plans for small libraries housed on a main floor including a partially exposed basement with large windows and a flight of steps leading up to the front door. State library associations picked up this effort of restraint. The most common resulting façade design used by architects became referred to as the Carnegie Classical. About a fourth of all Carnegies are of this design.
In 1919, the grant program funding construction of Carnegie libraries ended. By the close of World War II, these buildings were 40 to 50 years old and their demise had begun. Suburbs developed and city centers decayed as population shifted outward. Carnegies were converted to other uses, demolished for parking needed by adjacent businesses, replaced by one-story buildings without basements, or razed by the urban renewal movement of the 1960’s. A major handicap to these buildings was the flight of steps that limited access. The remedies lead to severely altering the original facades. Fortunately, the preservation movement born after the urban renewal movement has saved many Carnegies in their original exterior appearance though the use and thus the interiors have changed.
About Carnegie Academic Libraries
Most of the above information was obtained from Theodore Jones’ book Carnegie Libraries Across America, published in 1997, which is an extensive history of the Carnegie libraries built in this country. Oddly, there is no mention of a second category of Carnegie libraries…academic libraries. In Ohio, 7 academic libraries were built at these locations: Cedarville University, Heidelberg University, Marietta College, Miami University, Oberlin College, Otterbein University, and Wilberforce University. All still stand. The library at Athens was opened as a free public library and was shared with Ohio University. In the cities of Marietta and Tiffin (Heidelberg), both an academic and a public library were Carnegie-funded.
Per Wikipedia, 109 academic libraries were constructed in 32 states plus the District of Columbia. Pennsylvania has the most at 9 followed by Iowa, Kansas and Ohio at 7 each. Of the 109, 19 have been razed while 15 have been added to the National Register of Historic Places including the libraries at Heidelberg, Otterbein and Wilberforce. Only a handful of those remaining retain either their original library use or a new specialized library use. Andrew Carnegie had a preference for African-American academic institutions, and 16 received grants including Wilberforce. No information has been found regarding the purpose of grants awarded to academic institutions.
Published 2/3/2021 by Don Foster. email@example.com