“A Never-Failing Spring in the Desert”

Carnegie Library located on the Old Wilberforce University Campus, built in 1909 with matching funds from the Carnegie Foundation. Courtesy of the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center via Ohio Memory
Carnegie Library located on the Old Wilberforce University Campus, built in 1909 with matching funds from the Carnegie Foundation. Courtesy of the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center via Ohio Memory

“A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never-failing spring in the desert.” ― Andrew Carnegie

Did you know that over 100 of Ohio’s public libraries were built in large part thanks to industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie? A Scotland native who made his fortune in the steel industry, Carnegie’s early experiences with public and personal libraries convinced him of their intrinsic value, and their role in doing what he called “real and permanent good.”

Carnegie libraries in Ohio can be found all around the state–from Akron to Zanesville, as well as on the campuses of eight major universities. Built between 1899 and 1915, these libraries were constructed using grants totaling more than $3,000,000. A number of the libraries can be seen on Ohio Memory, pictured throughout the over-100 years many have been in existence!

Carnegie Library in Xenia, ca. 1907. Courtesy of the Greene County Public Library via Ohio Memory
Carnegie Library in Xenia, ca. 1907. Courtesy of the Greene County Public Library via Ohio Memory

The photograph above shows the Carnegie Library in Xenia which housed the Greene County Public Library from 1902 until it was damaged by the Xenia tornado in 1974. Below, you can see the architectural design for the Lakewood Public Library, which opened in 1916. This building was designed by New York architect Edward L. Tilton, a noted library designer who successfully planned numerous Carnegie-funded buildings. To see what the library looks like after a 1981 expansion, click through to Ohio Memory!

Lakewood Public Library rendering, courtesy of the LPL via Ohio Memory
Lakewood Public Library rendering, courtesy of the LPL via Ohio Memory

 

Children at the library, courtesy of the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County via Ohio Memory
Children at the library, courtesy of the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County via Ohio Memory

The development of Carnegie-funded libraries also changed practices in the library field. Many of the new buildings constructed during this period were characterized by central reference desks, as seen at left, to encourage communication with the librarian, as well as open stacks that allowed the public to browse freely all the library had to offer. Prior to these changes, patrons generally requested material from a librarian, who then retrieved the item from “closed” stacks, off limits to the public. Both of these advances contributed to Carnegie’s ultimate goal of freely-available knowledge and libraries as valuable community resources.

Take some time and check out some of the many Carnegie Libraries included on Ohio Memory, or consider paying a visit to a location near you this weekend!


Thanks to Lily Birkhimer, Digital Projects Coordinator at the Ohio History Connection, for this week’s post!

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