When Andrew Carnegie sold his controlling interest in US Steel in the 1880s for $480m, he was declared “the richest man in the world”.
He personified the American dream of rags to riches. The son of an impoverished linen weaver, he was born in Dunfermline in 1835. He went with his parents to the US when he was 12 and his formal education had ended.
A small but bright and sunny child, his route to business success began at the age of 13 in Pittsburg as a messenger boy earning $2.50 a week. Given access to a private library, every Saturday he borrowed a volume and was soon of the opinion that a library was the most valuable facility a community could possess.
Some 35 years later he made his first gift of a library to the workers at his steelworks and by the end of his life he had donated tens of millions of dollars for libraries throughout the world. In Britain and Ireland alone, he gave $15m to build 660 libraries. He wanted to make available to everyone a means of self-education.
The Carnegie Library opened in Herne Hill Road in July, 1906. It was the first public library to allow borrowers to browse among the shelves before choosing a book. Previously, borrowers had to ask the librarian at the desk for their required book. The experiment was so successful that soon other public libraries adopted the new method.
During the First World War, the library lent books to convalescent soldiers recovering in the huts built for them in Ruskin Park.
The land for the building was donated by the Minet Trust. A grant for the construction came from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Andrew Carnegie’s philanthropic foundation. The money was donated on condition that the local authority would stock the shelves with books and guarantee the maintenance of the library.
Carnegie Library thanks to © Lorenzo Ali www.lorenzophotography.co.uk
Carnegie Library entrance thanks to Loughboroughjunction from Flickr.com
Andrew Carnegie’s amazing career next week on DOV.