Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Recognizing Andrew Carnegie as a hero in library history and library science

[Edited February 27, 2015]

For the wintry month of February [2015], I have undertaken to read leisurely the autobiography of the philanthropist Andrew Carnegie (You can access this on Project Gutenberg). This I do on the weekends, as I take a break from my dissertation work.

One of the reasons for my interest in Carnegie is that he perhaps one of the most central characters in library history. The NPR ran a story on his legacy in establishing libraries in 2013 (Stamberg, 2013). However, the scope of his legacy goes beyond just funding the building of public free libraries to be managed by municipalities. In a previous blog post, I remembered pointing out that Andrew Carnegie's finances also went into establishing library schools (Changing library education with the times). According to Rubin (2010), the Andrew Carnegie Foundation was very much involved in funding library education with the goal of producing graduates that would be able to effectively and efficiently manage the new libraries that were built by the foundation. As such, Carnegie's financial support underlies the foundation for library science and libraries not only in America, but internationally as well.

Prior to reading his story, I thought that Carnegie had used a private library to conduct research on investments,  that lead him to wisely invest in steel. Here, my biased perception towards libraries as places for supporting entrepreneurship associated Carnegie's financial support to libraries as being related to him benefitting financially from knowledge accessed in libraries. However, that narrative interpretation was "laid to rest" by reading his own personal account.

Andrew's autobiography tells of his story of poverty, where at his first job, his employment gave him the opportunity to access books from a private library. Carnegie felt that the experience of being able to borrow books and read improved him, and felt that this should be freely available to others. Hence, his commitment to using his fortunes to spread access to literature to the public.

One thing that I have recognized from Carnegie's story is that billionaires and the rich (or the 1%) as people today call them, are not necessarily villains as they are made out to be. It is these same billionaires that give away money to worthy causes to enhance the life and social experiences of others. Often, their motives come not from selfish ambition, but from pure desire to make their world a better place or help souls improve themselves. As such, I believe that we must resist the urge to divide people based on wealth into the 1% and the 99% and recognise that together, we the 100% have a role to play in making the world a community that recognizes the humanity of every human being.


Rubin, R. (2010). Foundations of library and information science (3rd ed.). New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers.

Stamberg, S. (2013, Aug. 1). How Andrew Carnegie Turned His Fortune Into A Library Legacy. Retrieved from
Inskeep, S. (Host). (2014, July 8). Buddhist Monks Face Jail Time For July 4 Fireworks Display [Radio broadcast episode].

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skeep, S. (Host). (2014, July 8). Buddhist Monks Face Jail Time For July 4 Fireworks Display [Radio broadcast episode].

Read more :
Inskeep, S. (Host). (2014, July 8). Buddhist Monks Face Jail Time For July 4 Fireworks Display [Radio broadcast episode].

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