I don’t know about you but I love to read. Books were and still can be expensive so for me the Public Library has always been a source into the world of books.
I have been a member of a public library since I was a small child. There was the anticipation of the weekly trip to the library and the thoughts of two books for reading when homework was completed and household chores done. During the long school summer holidays having two visits in the week. So, double the number of books and if you had a friend living near who was also a bookworm you had the chance of swapping books.
The first membership I had was in the children’s library in Rathmines, Dublin. This library was opened in 1913 through a grant from the Carnegie foundation.
Andrew Carnegie who set up the Carnegie Foundation was a Scottish emigrant whose family settled in Allegheny, Pennsylvania in 1848. He started work at 13 in a cotton mill but soon got a job in a telegraph company and taught himself how to use the equipment from there he got a job with the railroad. Colonel James Anderson a prominent citizen in Allegheny opened his private library to all working boys and Carnegie took full advantage of that rare opportunity. Books would provide his education throughout his life.
Andrew Carnegie was a famous US industrialist. In 1901 when he sold his steel business for $480 million he set out to distribute his wealth by setting up the Carnegie Foundation. “It was from my own early experience that I decided there was no use to which money could be applied so productive as to the founding of a public library” Andrew Carnegie (www.carnegie.org) By 1905 he pledged $39 million for 1200 libraries in English speaking countries. That figure rose to over 2000 libraries. In Ireland 66 libraries were built and 62 of those remain to this day.
Many people may have heard of Carnegie Hall in New York City or seen it while visiting New York. It was also built from funds given by Andrew Carnegie. It was the culmination of a crusade for a building which would be able to accommodate the New York Symphony Society. The proposed building would have three separate performance spaces. The reviews from the opening nights performance concentrated on the building rather than the performance. The “Music Hall founded by Andrew Carnegie” was an overwhelming success. (www.carnegiehall.org)
Rathmines Public Library was the first public library in Ireland to have a dedicated children’s library. It also has a stained-glass window by the famous English designer William Morris. I have so many memories queueing up beneath that window as it cast its shadows on the warm wooden steps. It seemed to add to the adventure of the trip to the library. It was only many years later that I realised how privilaged I had been to have seen the craftsmanship that was on show.
My local library is now in, Bray, in county Wicklow. It is also a Carnegie Library It was built in 1911 on land donated by a local land-owning family, the Quinn Family. All the material was sourced locally and it was built by local craftsmen. We are fortunate with the expansion of the town we also have a second library in the town which was opened in 2000.
The public library even in today’s world of eBooks is still an essential part of the community. It is a treasure throve of treasures which now can be accessed by all. It is amazing that the generosity of one man is still being felt nearly 100 years after his death. His legacy is giving is still giving so much to so many.
Now all that remains is to decide whether to brave the rain and head to the library or to download a book via the library website. Decisions, decisions, decisions!