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Mr. Carnegie's answer to the question, What is the best gift which can be given to a community? is that in his judgment "a free library occupies the first place, provided the community will accept and maintain it as a public institution, as much a part of the city property as its public schools, and, indeed, an adjunct to these."







Hercules refusing to help the carter who did not put his own shoulder to the wheel and Carnegie, turning from the submerged tenth, to devise means for encouraging the swimming tenth, - these are the ancient and modern expressions of the same eternal truths that, in this life at least, by works are ye saved, and he that will not work neither shall he eat. - WHITELAW REID.


THE "Gospel of Wealth" - Mr. Carnegie's Library Creed -- Colonel James Anderson of Allegheny and His Library Institute -- The Anderson Memorial - Methods of Giving -- President Roosevelt - The Maintenance Requirement - The Value of Mr. Carnegie's Example - Some Doubts and Criticisms - Popular Misconceptions -- Mr. Horace White Quoted -- Carnegie Corporation Organized -- Total Benefactions to January 1, 1917

In the North American Review for June, 1889, Mr. Carnegie published an article on "Wealth" which attracted marked' attention both in England and America, calling forth comments and criticisms from Gladstone, Grover Cleveland, Cardinal Gibbons, Cardinal Manning, Bishop Potter, Rabbi Adler, and others. At the request of the editor, Mr. Carnegie contributed to the December number of the Review a second article, in which he pointed out what were in his judgment the best fields.. for the use of surplus wealth and the best methods of administering it for the good of the people. The two articles, slightly revised and coordinated, are reprinted as the title essay of his book, "The Gospel of Wealth, and other Timely Essays."

In his first paper Mr. Carnegie had said that "the main consideration should be to help those who will help themselves; to provide part of the means by which those who desire to improve may do so; to give those who desire to rise the aids by which they may rise; to assist, but rarely or never to do all. Neither the individual nor the race is improved by almsgiving. Those worthy of assistance, except in rare cases, seldom require assistance."

This thought was continued in his second- paper. "The first requisite for a really good use of wealth b~ the millionaire who has accepted the gospel which proclaims him only a trustee of the surplus that comes to him, is to take care that the purposes for which he spends it shall not have a degrading, pauperizing tendency upon its recipients, but that his trust shall be so administered as to stimulate the best and most aspiring poor of the community to further efforts for their own improvement."

Mr. Carnegie's answer to the question, What is the best gift which can be given to a community? is that in his judgment "a free library occupies the first place, provided the community will accept and maintain it as a public institution, as much a part of the city property as its public schools, and, indeed, an adjunct to these." Mr. Carnegie, in explaining his reason for having decided upon the building of libraries as the field for the distribution of his money, said: "I think it fruitful in the extreme, because the library gives nothing for nothing, because it helps only those that help themselves, because it does not sap the foundation of manly independence, because it does not pauperize, because it stretches a hand to the aspiring and places a ladder upon which they can only ascend by doing the climbing themselves. This is not charity, this is not philanthropy, it is the people themselves helping themselves by taxing them-selves." "It is, no doubt, possible," says Mr. Carnegie, "that my own personal experience may have led me to value a free library beyond all other forms of beneficence. 

When I was a working-boy in Pittsburg, Colonel Anderson of Allegheny -- a name that I can never speak without feelings of devotional gratitude -- opened his little library of four hundred books to boys. Every Saturday afternoon he was in attendance at his house to exchange books. No one but he who has felt it can ever know the intense longing with which the arrival of Saturday was awaited, that a new book might be had. My brother and Mr. Phipps, who have been my principal business partners through life, shared with me Colonel Anderson's precious generosity, and it was when revelling in the treasures which he opened to us that I resolved, if ever wealth came to me, that it should be used to establish free libraries, that other poor boys might receive opportunities similar to those for which we were indebted to that noble man."

Colonel James Anderson established in 1850 the " J. Anderson Library Institute of Allegheny City," which was open for the free circulation of books at stated hours on Tuesdays and Saturdays. The bookplate which Colonel Anderson had devised for his institute, with a collection of tools for its most characteristic feature, shows clearly that the founder's intention was to furnish reading for the mechanics and working-men who made up the largest part of the community. It has the apt motto: "Take fast hold of instruction: let her not go, for she is thy life." (Proverbs, chapter 4, verse 13.)

The Anderson Library was closed shortly after its founder's death in i86i, not perhaps so much on account of lack of public interest in keeping it open as owing to the all-absorbing interest in the Civil War. The books were boxed up and stored in the basement of the city hall until shortly after the close of the war, when they were entrusted to the charge of the recently organized Allegheny Library Association. in 1871 the management of the Association was placed in the hands of the board of school controllers, who, during the next year, were empowered to appropriate from the school funds a sum of money for the maintenance of a free public library. 

When the Carnegie Free Library was organized in 1890, it was generally expected that the Public School Library would be merged into the new institution, but there were unfortunately legal difficulties which prevented the amalgamation. The Public School Library now numbers 26,000 volumes, including about four hundred books from the original Anderson Library.

Mr. Carnegie has on several occasions paid fond tribute to Colonel Anderson's memory, and on June 15, 1904, there was unveiled in Allegheny as a gift from him a lasting memorial to the man who inspired the great steel king with the idea of his library crusade. The monument is at the corner of the Carnegie Library lot and consists of a portrait bust by Daniel Chester French. in front of the large granite slab which supports the bust is the figure of an iron-worker, who sits bared to the waist, upon an anvil, and rests from his labor long enough to glance at the large open book which he holds on his knees.

Mr. Carnegie does not care to be known as a philanthropist, whom he defines as one who not only gives his wealth, but also follows it up by personal attention. The claims upon Mr. Carnegie's time and the wide area over which his benefactions have been spread have not permitted of his carrying out the second stipulation to any great extent. Yet it must be said that he has followed with very keen 'interest and wise c6unsel the development of many of the institutions which owe their existence to his liberality, notably those in and around Pittsburg which serve the large communities immediately interested in and dependent upon the works and industries by means of which Mr. Carnegie's wealth was largely acquired.

Mr. Carnegie has expressed great admiration for the method of giving employed by Mr. Enoch Pratt, of Baltimore, who not only gave to his city the library which bears his name, but also watched constantly over its growth and development, sharing with the trustees the burden of the many problems which beset them from time to time, helping with practical suggestions and cheering all by his optimism. 

  Library of Tuskegee Institute, Tuskegee, Alabama

On the occasion of the formal opening' of the magnificent library building which Mr. Carnegie had presented to the District of Columbia, he said with genial modesty: "It is so little to give money to a good cause and there end," then turning to the commissioners and trustees, "and so grand to give thought and time, as these gentlemen have done."

"It seems to me that the man has aright to call himself thrice blessed," said President Roosevelt on this occasion, "who has in him the combined power and purpose to use his wealth for the benefit of all the people at large in a way that can do them real benefit, and in no way can more benefit be done than through the gift of libraries such as this, - a free library, where each man, each woman, has the chance to get for himself or herself the training that he has the character to desire and to acquire. Now, of course, our common school system lies at the foundation of our educational system, but it i~ the foundation only. The men that are to stand pre-eminent as the representatives of the culture of the community must educate themselves, and the work done by this library is interesting because it represents one side of the way in which all this self-educational work in a community must be done.

"Mr. Carnegie," continued the President, "neither you nor any one else can make a man wise or cultivated. All you can do is to give him a chance to make himself so, to add to his own wisdom or his own cultivation, and that is all you can do in any kind of genuine philanthropic work. The only philanthropic work is work that helps a man to help himself This is true in ~every way, socially and sociologically. The man who will submit or demand to be carried is not worth carrying. [To this Mr. Carnegie ejaculated, 'Hear! Hear!'] Every man of us needs help, needs more and more to be given the chance to show forth in himself the stuff that is in him, and this kind of free library is doing in the world of cultivation, the world of civilization, what it should or may do for the great world of p0litical and social development; that is, it is as far as may be equalizing the opportunities, and then leaving the men themselves to show how able they are to take advantage of those 'opportunities. To quote an expression that I am fond of, this sort of gift is equally far from two prime vices of our civilization, hardness of heart and softness of head."

At the dinner given in Mr. Carnegie's honor, April 7, 1902, by the Society of American Authors, Mr. Melvil Dewey, responding to the toast, "The immeasurable service Mr. Carnegie has rendered public libraries," said: "If Mr. Carnegie were investing every few days in stocks, men would begin to look very carefully into the condition of the stocks he bought.                    Washington, D.C.=>

 He has been investing every little while for the past few years in libraries, and I believe that he has done it with the same ideas that made him in an age of steel invest in steel and make the best steel in the world, and then command the markets of the world for it. His wisdom has done five times as much as his wealth in the conditions he has put with his gifts."

The conditions referred to are the well-known proviso that the community accepting the offer of a library building furnish a site and agree to supply an annual maintenance fund of at least ten per cent of the amount of the gif~ The percentage was higher in some of Mr. Carnegie's earlier offers, but I know of only one case where it was lower, and I have it from one of the trustees of that particular institution that they regret that 'Mr. Carnegie was ever persuaded to make an exception in their case. They find it impossible to administer the library properly on a five per cent basis, and yet they are unable to persuade the city fathers to increase the grant.

To the fact that the communities are expected to maintain and develop the many free libraries which are scattered over Great Britain, Mr. Carnegie attributes most of their usefulness. "An endowed institution," he claims, "is liable to become the prey of a clique. The public ceases to take interest in it, or, rather, never acquires interest in it. The rule has been violated which requires the recipients to help themselves. Everything has been done for the community instead of its being only helped to help itself, and good results rarely ensue."

"I do not want to be known for what I give," said Mr. Carnegie on one occasion, "but for what I induce others to give." An interesting list could be made of gifts to Carnegie libraries. It would include not only tracts of land, but furnishings and endowments for the libraries, as well as books and pictures and well-equipped museums. But, of course, the main value of a gift of this kind is not represented by its sum total in dollars and cents, but rather in the civic interest which it arouses in the object of the gift Many a citizen's attention was first called to the fact that there was a public library in his town by the discussion of a Carnegie grant in the local papers: Moreover, the fact that one town has a Carnegie library is an incentive to its less intellectual or less enterprising neighbor to provide equally good library facilities for its citizens; and more than one community has been spurred to action in this matter by seeing what was being done by its rivals.

A study of the map of Carnegie libraries in the United States will show many of these centres of influence. In speaking of Mr. Carnegie's princely and unparalleled  gift to New York City, shortly after it had been announced, Mr. Melvil Dewey said that it had "so struck the popular mind that it would do more good to library interests in general by the resulting thought and discussion than by the inestimable direct service to New York itself. It has given new courage and strength to every library worker in the world, and we are all profoundly grateful."

Some honest doubts have been expressed in regard to this Carnegie library deluge. "Of course, every town ought to have a library," remarked the Boston Transcript in an editorial under date of November 28, 1902. "There does not exist a municipality in the United States but knows that its equipment is incomplete without a library. Moreover, there is not one that would not have a library sooner or later by its own efforts, unless the hope of a gift from Mr. Carnegie leads it to defer the matter indefinitely." That a community should put off the establishment of a library indefinitely because of being disappointed in its expectation of a Carnegie grant is hardly credible.

It requires some active canvassing to secure the offer - generally a ballot on the subject and a guarantee of a suitable maintenance fund. If the guarantee is sufficient and the finances of the community seem to warrant the annual expenditure of the amount involved, Mr. Carnegie usually makes the grant. The refusals have, I am inclined to think, been more frequent from the towns than from Mr. Carnegie, the offer usually having been made in response to the request of some private individual or from a body of library trustees. Mr. Carnegie has very rarely taken the initiative in these matters.

The majority of the communities in the United States which have shared Mr. Carnegie's bounty are in the newly settled parts : of the country, in places which have been harassed by demands for the more pressing public improvements, such as good roads, schools, churches, courthouses, sewerage, lighting and water supply systems, and Mr. Carnegie has simply put them that much forward by giving them the advantages of a library home. He thus directs attention to their library needs, but does not supply them. He supplies merely convenient accessories for the administration of a library, not the library itself- the shell and not the kernel. The books and the library spirit must come from the people themselves. This, as already pointed out, has been his policy from the first. Whether the library is to ~bear fruit depends upon the community.

It is conceivable that a community may through a mistaken idea rush into this matter before season, that it may seek the of a Carnegie grant before it is prepared to properly take care of a library. But Mr. Carnegie has foreseen the danger of ambitious community overreaching its legitimate ends and secretary and financial agent have required full statements to the population and income of a community before entertaining its proposition. In not a few cases Mr. Carnegie has granted the full amount asked for, because it was felt that in accepting the larger sum the community would be binding itself do more than it should undertake.

Mr. Carnegie has never thrust his gifts upon a community, nor has he ever willingly stood in the way of any one else giving a library to a community. I recall one instance where, in response to a request for aid, he offered to furnish money for a library building, but withdrew his offer when he heard that a former citizen desired to present a library to his native town.

In notifying the prospective donor of his action, Mr. Carnegie congratulated him upon the opportunity of which he had availed himself. There is a popular misconception to the effect that all these libraries which Mr. Carnegie has scattered over the land bear his name, that he has erected them simply as so many monuments to himself. The direct opposite is true. He makes no stipulation as to the name the library shall bear. The great majority of them are known as the Public Library of the town which supports them.

 Most of the gifts have been made to libraries already in existence at the time of the offer, corporate institutions the names of which no one would think of changing simply because they had been given a~ new home. This is as it should be. As one ardent library worker in Montana put it, "You would not give a child the name of a man who gives him a suit of clothes; no matter how good a suit it might be, he would bear his father's name."

Naturally there is usually some tablet or inscription on the building stating that it was erected through the generosity of Mr. Carnegie. Common courtesy would require some such acknowledgment of so great a gift. Certain library boards have acknowledged their indebtedness by inserting the words "Carnegie building" as a qualifying phrase under the name of their library. On the other hand, when any particular library has been called into being through the agency of Mr. Carnegie's princely liberality and the recipients of his bounty have wished to do him special honor they have named the library after him. But this has followed and not preceded the gift.

At the dedication of the Carnegie Library of Beloit College, January 5, 1905, Mr. Horace White of the New York Evening Post spoke as follows of Mr. Carnegie's library work:

In the fall of I891, Cornell University dedicated her library building, which still holds high rank among similar structures in this country. The principal address on the occasion was delivered by President Gilman of Johns Hopkins University. The speaker made some opening remarks on the general growth and progress of public libraries. "Witness," he said, "the noble gifts of the Astors, of Bates, Peabody, Rush, Lenox, Tilden, Newberry, Crerar, Chittenden, and many more." It was a well-deserved tribute that he paid to the memory of these benefactors of their kind. All of the gifts to which Dr. Gilman referred were made in the latter half, and most of them in the last quarter, of the nineteenth century. Yet more work has been done in this country for free libraries since the date of Dr. Gilman's address thirteen years ago than had been done in our whole previous history, and one man has done more of it than all others put together.

Mr. Carnegie's benefactions to libraries continued to grow with ever-increasing momentum, and in 1911 Mr. Carnegie made provision for its continuance on a permanent basis. The first step was to secure the passage in the New York state Legislature, on June 9, 1911, of an act authorizing the incorporation of the Carnegie Corporation of New York. On Friday, November 10, of the same year, eight men met in Mr. Carnegie's house, accepted the charter, adopted a constitution and by-laws, and elected the following officers: President, Andrew Carnegie; vice president, Elihu Root; treasurer, Robert A. Franks; and secretary, James Bertram. To this corporation Mr. Carnegie transferred, for the purposes specified in the charter, first mortgage gold bonds of the United States Corporation for the sum of $25,000,000, par value, which was shortly after increased to ~ 125,000,000. All business relating to the erection of library buildings, either public or in educational institutions, as well as a number of Mr. Carnegie's personal charities, was transferred to the Corporation as rapidly possible, and has since been administered by that body.

The charter under which the Corporation operates, reads as follows:


The People of the State of New York, represented in Senate and Assembly, do enact as follows:

SECTION I. Andrew Carnegie, Elihu Root, Henry S. Pritchett, William N. Frew, Robert S. Woodward, Charles L. Taylor, Robert A. Franks, James Bertram and their successors, are hereby constituted a body corporate by the name of Carnegie Corporation of New York, for the purpose of receiving and maintaining a fund or funds and applying the income thereof to promote the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding among the people of the United States, by aiding technical schools, institutions of higher learning, libraries, scientific research, hero funds, useful publications, and by such other agencies and means as shall from time to time be found appropriate therefor.

SECTION 2. The corporation hereby formed shall have power to take and bold, by bequest, devise, gift, purchase or lease, either absolutely or in trust, for any of its purposes, any property, real or personal, without limitation, as to amount or value, except such limitation, if any, as the legislature shall her~ after impose, to convey such property, and to invest and reinvest any principal and deal with and expend the income of the corporation in such manner as in the judgment of the trustees will best promote its objects. It shall have an the power and be subject to all the restrictions which now pertain by law to membership corporations as far as the same are applicable thereto and are not inconsistent with the provisions of this act. The persons named in the first section of this act, or a majority of them, shall bold a meeting and organize the corporation and adopt a constitution and by-laws not inconsistent with the constitution and laws of this State. The constitution shall prescribe the qualifications of members, the number of members who shall constitute a quorum for the transaction of business at meetings of the corporation, the number of trustees by whom the business and affairs of the corporation shall be managed the qualifications, powers, and the manner of selection of the trustees and officers of the corporation, and any other provisions for the management and disposition of the property and regulation of the affairs of the corporation which may be deemed expedient.

SECTION 3. This act shall take effect immediately.

Five other funds have been organized by Mr. Carnegie at various times, and their presidents are, by virtue of their offices, members of the Board of Trustees of the Corporation. The Board as organized in 1911 was as follows: Andrew Carnegie, New York; Elihu Root, President, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington, D. C.; William N. Frew, President, Board of Trustees of The Carnegie Institute of Pltt5 burgh; Robert S. Woodward, President of The Carnegie Institution of Washington, Washington, D.C.; Henry S. Pritchett, President of The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, New York; Charles L. Taylor, President of The Carnegie Hero Fund Commission, Pittsburgh, Pa.; Robert A. Franks, New York; James Bertram, New York. There have been few changes in the Board of Trustees since incorporation. William N. Frew died in 1914 and was succeeded by S. H. Church, President of the Board of Trustees of The Carnegie Institute, of Pittsburgh. John A. Poynton is now a member of the Board, and Robert ~ Franks; holds the double office of vice president and treasurer.

F9r the guidance of library committees, especially in small towns, who may have lacked time or opportunity to study library planning, the Carnegie Corporation sends to all communities to which library grants have been voted, a suggestive memorandum called "Notes on the Erection of Library Bildings,"  illustrated with diagrams showing six types of libraries which have been found satisfactory in operation. To quote from this memorandum:

The amount allowd by Carnegie Corporation of New York to cover the cost of a Library Bilding is according to a standard based on (a) the population which is to pay the tax for carrying on the library, and (b) a specified minimum revenue from such tax. The donation is sufficient only to provide needed accommodation and there wil be either a shortage of accommodation or of money if this primary purpose is not kept in view, viz.: TO OBTAIN FOR THE MONEY THE UTMOST AMOUNT OF EFFECTIV ACCOMMODATION, CONSISTENT WITH GOOD TASTE IN BILDING.

The amount allowd is intended to cover cost of the bilding, complete and redy for use with indispensible furniture and fixtures, and including architect's fees.

The bilding should he devoted exclusively to (main floor) housing of books and their issue for home use; comfortable accommodation for reading them by adults and children. (Basement) Lecture room; necessary accommodation for heating plant; also nil conveniences for the library patrons and staff.

Experience seems to sho that the best results for a small general library ar obtaind by adopting the one-story and basement rectangular type of bilding, with a small vestibule entering into one large room subdivided as required by means of bookcases.

[Simplified spelling is used in all Carnegie communications.]

It has been customary with the Carnegie Corporation to r~ quire assurance that at least ten per cent of the grant made to cover the cost of the building will be appropriated annually by the community benefited, for the maintenance of the library. The tendency of many communities to assume that when this requirement had been met the city or town had done its full duty by the library, led the League of Library Commissions in N915 to enter into correspondence with the Carnegie Corporation, to ascertain whether the latter would be willing to make a definite statement to the effect that this ten per cent maintenance fund is to be regarded merely as the minimum possible for support

Mr.J. I. Wyer, Jr., in a memorandum submitted t6 the Carnegie Corporation on November 15, 1915, on behalf of the League of Library Commissions, wrote:

I. The amount of money required effectively to maintain a public library, expressed in terms of per cent of the building cost, varies not Only according to the part of the country, but the adequacy of a 10% income varies with the difference in initial cost of library buildings. For example, it costs more than half as much to maintain a library in a $10,000 building as to maintain a library in a $20,000 building.

2. The inadequacy of a 10% maintenance sum is most apparent with very small libraries in buildings costing from $5,000 to $15,ooo. Is the Carnegie Corporation willing to add to its printed matter sent to committees applying for library buildings, to incorporate in its correspondence, to include in its annual report, or to print as a separate leaflet to be furnished to library commissions, a statement to the effect that while 10% of the cost of the building has seemed a fair maintenance requirement for the country as a whole, yet it is well understood that Owing to local conditions this sum will in hundreds of instances he wholly insufficient to develop the public library to its fullest usefulness; that the Carnegie Corporation is glad to emphasize the fact that the 10% maintenance requirement is considered by it merely as a minimum with the knowledge and expectation that in order to make the fullest use of the building and library the amount appropriated for library support must eventually exceed this sum?

Cooperating with the League of Library Commissions in its endeavors to secure increased and adequate support for libraries, the Corporation has adopted the Commission's tentative suggestion, and has printed the correspondence passed between the two as a separate leaflet, which is mailed as an enclosure with each promise of a library building, as well as to all who have received Carnegie buildings in the past.

The library grants made in the United States and Canada during 1916 amounted to $1,24I,888. The total library gifts to December 31, 1916, granted either by Mr. Carnegie personally or by the Carnegie Corporation, amounted to 2749 public library buildings, representing $61,293,485.17, and 116 college library buildings, representing $3,776,199.27, making the amazing record of 2865 buildings and $65,069,684.44. Of this $61,293,485.17 set aside for public library buildings, the sum of $13,135,354.91 was promised by the Carnegie Corporation.

Source: Theodore Wesley Koch. A Book of Carnegie Libraries. Publisher: The H. W. Wilson Company / White Plains, NY / 1917

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update 19 April 2010



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