ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
In 1907 Mr. Theodore W. Koch, in appreciation of the public spirit of Mr. Carnegie,
undertook in his leisure time the public service to libraries and to the community of
collecting plans and illustrations of typical or notable Carnegie buildings erected .
A Book of Carnegie Libraries
By Theodore Wesley Koch
Introduction By R.R. Bowker
The generosity of Andrew Carnegie in the library gifts, which are the greatest single benefaction in library history, has had purpose and result much broader than the mere building of public libraries. Like his rival in large giving, John D. Rockefeller, Mr. Carnegie has sought through his giving to stimulate public spirit, to raise standards, and to provide for social betterment, not by way of by-products, but as a chief aim. Thus he has made fundamental conditions of his library gifts, that the community should provide a site and that adequate maintenance, usually a tithe annually on the cost of the building should be assured, making himself a co-partner with the local citizenry in providing that people’s university which in so many ~American cities and towns is today a central feature of architecture and of community life.
In 1907 Mr. Theodore W. Koch, in appreciation of the public spirit of Mr. Carnegie, undertook in his leisure time the public service to libraries and to the community of collecting plans and illustrations of typical or notable Carnegie buildings erected up to that date. The portfolio which resulted from that collection has been a useful presentation of library architecture, but it has lacked until now the accompanying text which should explain and describe the buildings illustrated. Mr. Koch’s increasingly engrossing labors and other circumstances prevented earlier publication of the present volume, which brings the story of Mr. Carnegie’s gifts up to ten years ago. This volume includes with its text the illustrations of the portfolio collection.
There has been no attempt to cover the succeeding ten years, beyond brief mention of the Carnegie Corporation, organized in 1911 to continue permanently Mr. Carnegie’s benefactions and to relieve him of the personal strain of this work. It is a correlative of the Carnegie Foundation and of the Carnegie Institution, each doing altruistic work in its separate field. Up to the year 1907 Mr. Carnegie’s library gifts had provided for 1636 library buildings, covering grants of $44,545,742 — 1014, representing $32,734,267, in the United States, and the others dotted over England, Wales, and Scotland, Canada, South Africa, and other parts of the English-speaking world. A decade later, up to 1917, the total grants promised by Mr. Carnegie personally, and by the Carnegie Corporation, had provided for 2865 buildings amounting to $65,069,684.44, in itself an enormous fortune. It would be unfair not to recognize at this writing the part of Mr. James Bertram, first, as Mr. Carnegie’s personal secretary for library purposes, and later as secretary of the Carnegie Corporation, and as the general channel of Mr. Carnegie’s library generosity.
The earlier buildings figuring in the illustrations and described in the present volume show the development of library architecture under the early stimulus of Mr. Carnegie’s gifts. In that time there was great progress, and in these later years there has been greater progress. Some features of these earlier buildings have been developed into greater usefulness and beauty, while others have not had so happy an experience, but have done their part in the evolution of the present library building, as early experiments to be discarded in favor of better methods.
This is the story of all good development, and the text and illustrations of the present volume should be studied with careful discrimination as to what should be avoided and what copied or developed. In the past few years the Carnegie Corporation has worked out improved standards, especially for small library buildings, which represent a happy combination of good architecture and practical administration.
It is perhaps not out of place here to emphasize the thought that a Carnegie library, while attractive in exterior, should be fundamentally of sound architecture, answering to practical needs and economy of maintenance.
Today the Carnegie name is associated with good architecture in thousands of places in this country and elsewhere, thus providing a monument more impressive, more useful, and more lasting than can be associated with any other life or name.
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