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Celsus: A Library Architecture Resource
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Celsus Review: Advances in Library Building and Renovation
Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Alexandria, Egypt
Andrew Carnegie and the Canadian Carnegie Libraries
libraries in canada
libraries in ontario
The grand Hamilton Public Library in Hamilton, Ontario; Obtained from Wikimedia Commons under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.
This article provides information on Andrew Carnegie and the library buildings he donated to Canadian communities in the early 1900’s. The reasons Carnegie invested in public libraries are discussed, as well as how the grant program was administered, how the libraries were disbursed across Canada, and general features of the Canadian Carnegie libraries. This article also highlights some particularly interesting buildings and discusses the lasting impact of Andrew Carnegie in Canada. There are also links to further information and photos available at the end of the article.
Why Carnegie Invested in Public Libraries
Andrew Carnegie was a wealthy man by the age of 30 and at the time he retired in 1901, at the age of 65, he was able to sell his steel company for $480 000 000 (“Andrew Carnegie” np, “Ontario’s Carnegie Libraries” np). Carnegie felt that it was the responsibility of the rich to donate their money to good causes and be involved in philanthropy (“Andrew Carnegie” np, “Ontario’s Carnegie Libraries” np). Carnegie was dedicated to the cause of free education for all and he felt the best way to provide this to people was through public libraries (“Andrew Carnegie” np, “Andrew Carnegie Libraries” np). He felt libraries provided free education, fostered growing communities, and gave people the tools they needed to succeed (“Andrew Carnegie” np). Before he died, Carnegie had donated $350 million of his fortune to different projects; $56 million of which was donated to build 2509 libraries worldwide (McLeod np, “Ontario’s Carnegie Libraries” np). 125 of these library buildings were donated to Canadian communities and the largest concentration of these was 111 donated in Ontario (“Ontario’s Carnegie Libraries” np). Because of his many library donations, Carnegie was called the “Patron Saint of Libraries” (Krass 419).
Administering the Carnegie Library Building Grants
Carnegie believed that the money he donated should be used to assist a project and should not be enough to fund the project entirely (“Andrew Carnegie Libraries” np). He believed that no one was better off through charity (“Andrew Carnegie Libraries” np). With the library program, the grants were only to be used to build library buildings and were not to be used for staffing, furnishings, buying books, or the like (“History…” np). Carnegie wanted each community to take responsibility for collecting tax dollars in order to support the library (Lester 92).
Carnegie and his personal secretary, James Bertram, came up with a number of criteria to determine which communities deserved the library building grants because they both wanted to be sure that “each worthy request received careful and serious consideration” (“Andrew Carnegie Libraries” np). The criteria they decided on were that the community needed to demonstrate their need for a public library, provide the building site, provide 10% of the building cost annually for operating costs such as staffing and books, and they had to promise to only use the building as a library (“Andrew Carnegie” np). There was a perception that Carnegie forced his libraries on communities, but this was never the case. He received thousands of requests throughout the life of the program (Krass 419). Sometimes a community was refused a grant for reasons like debt issues, not handling the grant request process well, or for already having adequate library facilities (Krass 420). It also happened that sometimes a community would turn down a grant. This might happen if a community could not commit to the 10% maintenance cost, if they had other priorities at the time, if they wanted more money than Carnegie would offer, or if they could not agree on a site (Krass 421-422). One example of this is Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, which requested a $75 000 grant in 1910 (Kerr 112). When an offer of $30 000, based on their population, was received, they turned it down (Kerr 112). A few refused the grants because of Carnegie’s labor practices and his insults aimed at the British monarchy (Krass 422, McLeod np). There was a backlash in Toronto, Ontario over the request for a Carnegie grant, as many people there did not see Carnegie as a labor sympathizer, but the government accepted the grant offer anyways (McLeod np).
Bertram eventually took over most of the day to day running of the library building grant program (Beckman “The Best Gift” 25). The process of applying for a grant could be long and laborious, possibly taking months or more of correspondence (“History…” np). A community had to provide lots of information to prove that they were not taking advantage of Carnegie’s generosity (“History…” np). After the program had existed for a few years, Bertram became even more meticulous as he realized that some communities were taking advantage of Carnegie’s donations and building excessively extravagant buildings or not honoring their agreements to only use the building as a library (Beckman “The Best Gift” 49). After that, Bertram required even more information from the towns and eventually created a pamphlet on acceptable architectural plans (Krass 419). He also began to require that communities send him their building plans for approval before construction could start (Beckman “The Best Gift” 49, Krass 419).
Carnegie made very few requests of the buildings or the towns. In the beginning he requested that the words “Let There Be Light” be engraved above the door, but it is unclear if this was ever asked of any Canadian libraries (Krass 327). He never asked for his name to be used in the naming of the library, although he was pleased when a town did and if asked, he was always happy to provide a photo of himself (Krass 327, Lester 92). Once and awhile he would refuse to have his name used if it was going to be in conjunction with the name of someone he regarded as a hero, like Lincoln (Krass 421). In the end, only about 27% of the library buildings he donated worldwide chose to use his name (Krass 421).
Carnegie also took no part in running the libraries (Lester 92). Once the building funds were sent out, he was finished with the project and simply expected that the libraries would honor their promise to provide the funds to run the library (Lester 92). This caused problems as some communities did not provide the necessary funding for the upkeep of the library, and some used the building for many more things than just a library, among other issues that began to become problematic (Beckman “The Best Gift” 60). These types of issues led to the discontinuation of the Carnegie library building grant program in November of 1917 (although after this date Bertram did honor the commitments made to communities that had already begun the grant process) (Beckman “The Best Gift” 40, 175).
Library Building Funds in Canada
The grants were supposed to go to smaller, rather than larger, communities, but a community of less than 2000 people was generally considered too small (“Andrew Carnegie Libraries” np). The grants were based on the population of a town and the standard calculation was based on a $2 per capita ratio (although this might be increased if a town provided a convincing argument) (“Andrew Carnegie Libraries” np).
A typical Carnegie grant was about $10 000, which is equivalent to $650 000 today, although many communities received more than this (“Ontario’s Carnegie Libraries” np). The William Avenue Branch in Winnipeg, Manitoba received $75 000 to build their library, and in total, the Toronto Public Library received $487 500 to build a main library, nine branch libraries, and a university library (McLeod np, “Toronto’s Carnegie Libraries” np). The original grant received by Toronto was for $350 000 and it was the largest single Canadian grant offered; at the time only New York, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh had received more money (“Toronto’s Carnegie Libraries” np). Some communities received grants that although small, were much more than the $2 per capita guideline. One such town was Ayr, Ontario. They received a grant of $5200 even though their population was only 807 people (“Andrew Carnegie Libraries” np). They were the smallest Canadian community to receive a grant (“Andrew Carnegie Libraries” np). Only two Ontario grants were offered of less than $5000 and three Ontario grants were for more than $100 000 (Beckman “The Best Gift” 50).
The first community to receive a grant in Canada was Windsor, Ontario on February 13th, 1901, although the first recorded Canadian request was from Collingwood, Ontario on June 8th, 1899 (Beckman “The Best Gift” 28). The last Canadian Carnegie grant went to the Ottawa West Branch on March 31st, 1917, although some grant offers were honored as late as 1923 if they had been offered before 1917 (Beckman “The Best Gift” 40, 175, 181).
The grant money for the libraries was not given all at once; it was disbursed as the project progressed (Krass 419). In total, Carnegie donated $2 556 660 to build 125 library buildings in Canada (Lester 93).
The Geographic Distribution of Carnegie Library Buildings in Canada
The Carnegie libraries in Canada were built between 1901 and 1923 (Beckman “Carnegie Libraries of Canada” 386). The breakdown by province is as follows (Beckman “The Best Gift” 19):
Ontario received most of the Canadian libraries for a number of reasons. Ontario had a history of library development in the province, it had been settled fairly early, and people recognized the need for free public libraries (Beckman “The Best Gift” 18). Only Indiana and California in the United States received more grants than Ontario (Beckman “The Best Gift” 157).
Wychwood Public Library interior, Toronto, Ontario. Note the high windows and full-size bookshelves; Obtained from Wikimedia Commons; Public Domain.
Many of the Carnegie library buildings in Canada were large and stately, built with limestone or brick, with Greek and Roman style arches and columns (McLeod np). Other features common to many Canadian library buildings were having two windows on each side of the entrance and having steps both inside and outside of the main door (Beckman “Carnegie Libraries of Canada” 386). Many of the libraries built after 1908 have small high windows at the back because Bertram strongly recommended them as they provided space below for full sized shelving along the walls (Beckman “Carnegie Libraries of Canada” 387). Plaques or photos honoring Carnegie were common at the Canadian Carnegie libraries (Beckman “The Best Gift” 16, 83). A number of early buildings incorporated living quarters into their building for the librarian or caretaker. This is something Bertram never would have approved of, had he been aware of it (Beckman “The Best Gift” 107). Fireplaces were a popular addition in Ontario (Beckman “The Best Gift” 114). Most libraries were built in a downtown location (Beckman “The Best Gift” 115, 175). One common feature of almost all of the libraries is large windows, as they were needed to provide natural light in the building (Beckman “The Best Gift” 134). Separate reading rooms for men and women were common, especially in the larger libraries (Beckman “The Best Gift” 137). The modern standard at the
Yorkville Public Library in Toronto, Ontario. A good example of a typical Canadian Carnegie library; Obtained from Wikimedia Commons; Public domain
time of Carnegie’s giving was for a library to have two books per capita, but few libraries were able to reach this, and many did not even have one book per capita (Beckman “The Best Gift” 165). One of Carnegie’s innovations was open stacks and allowing patrons to browse the books themselves, although this was something that most libraries in Ontario did not easily adapt to, preferring conventional stacks rooms (“Andrew Carnegie” np, Beckman “The Best Gift” 110).
Bertram did not want libraries to add unnecessary frills like side porches or verandas (Beckman “Carnegie Libraries of Canada” 386). Kenora was forbidden from building a side porch on their library, but they did so anyway (Beckman “Carnegie Libraries of Canada” 386). Bertram liked rectangular buildings that were one storey with a basement. He liked staircases on the exterior of the building that led up to the main floor. He preferred one large room with book cases used as “walls”, rear and side windows that were seven feet from the ground to allow for full size bookcases beneath, and a lecture room in the basement (Beckman “The Best Gift” 114). Most Canadian buildings did follow these preferences and were one storey with a raised basement, had a central entrance, were symmetrical, and had columns on either side of the door (Beckman “The Best Gift” 117).
Canadian Carnegie Library Buildings of Interest
The first Carnegie library to open in Canada was the Chatham Public Library in Ontario on September 14th, 1903, even though it did not receive the first Canadian grant (Beckman “The Best Gift” 10). Windsor received the first grant but they had trouble securing land and so were not the first to build (Beckman “The Best Gift” 28).
Milverton, Ontario has the most interior and exterior steps leading to a circulation desk (Beckman “Carnegie Libraries of Canada” 387).
Pembroke, Ontario is unlike most Carnegie libraries in design. The architect was Francis Sullivan of Ottawa, but Frank Lloyd Wright was a co-designer of the building, although he remained unnamed on the documentation. This collaboration is evident in the design (Beckman “The Best Gift” 1132, Beckman “Carnegie Libraries of Canada” 388).
Ottawa Public Library in Ottawa, Ontario; Obtained from Wikimedia Commons; Public domain.
Clinton, Ontario is the only community that received a grant for an addition to an already existing, non-Carnegie building (Beckman “Carnegie Libraries of Canada” 390).
Palmerston, Ontario never used more than 25% of their Carnegie building for a library, something that upset Bertram greatly (Beckman “Carnegie Libraries of Canada” 390).
The Ottawa, Ontario library was the only Canadian library that Carnegie attended the opening of on April 30th, 1906 (Beckman “The Best Gift” 34, 60).
Berlin, Ontario applied for and received six Carnegie grants for the same building, the most in Canada (Beckman “The Best Gift” 52).
Glencoe, Ontario was possibly the last Carnegie library built in Canada. It opened February 1st, 1923 (Beckman “The Best Gift” 95).
The Lasting Legacy of Andrew Carnegie in Canada
The new Hespeler Library in Cambridge, Ontario was built by constructing a glass cube around the historic Carnegie library; Obtained from Wikimedia Commons under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.
Carnegie contributed significantly to small communities around the country (“Ontario’s Carnegie Libraries” np). 63 of the original 111 Ontario
libraries still function as libraries (“Andrew Carnegie” np). Although not necessarily entirely reliable, according to Wikipedia, 19 of the Canadian libraries have been demolished, 37 now serve another purpose, 5 are unknown, and 64 are still used as libraries (“List…” np).
Many Carnegie libraries have been renovated in some manner, some as little as being painted, and others with extensive renovations or expansions (Beckman “The Best Gift” 167). It is interesting that some libraries pay great attention to detail, attempting to create an addition that mimics the original building while others may go as far as to obscure the original building almost entirely (Beckman “The Best Gift” 167). One major issue with Carnegie libraries is the lack of access for the elderly or disabled because of the stairs (Beckman “The Best Gift” 167). Another common issue is the lack of room for stacks (Beckman “The Best Gift” 167). It can be difficult and costly to bring the buildings up to modern day standards, but it is not impossible to have a useful and beautifully restored Carnegie library (Beckman “The Best Gift” 167, 170). The most flexible libraries are those that followed Bertram’s advice on using shelving as room dividers instead of permanent walls (Beckman “The Best Gift” 167). Carnegie library buildings around the country have been restored for use as libraries or other uses and often they are restored through heritage funding (Beckman “Carnegie Libr
Paris Branch of the County of Brant Public Library in Ontario. Note the attention to detail in the brickwork on the back addition; Obtained from Wikimedia Commons under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
aries of Canada” 389). One example of this is the efforts in Dawson City, Yukon to restore the Carnegie library there. It was gutted by fire in 1915. Research was done in order to restore the building to its original state (Beckman “Carnegie Libraries of Canada” 390).
The Carnegie Corporation believes that their libraries created a generation of library supporters (Beckman “The Best Gift” 176). The promise of Carnegie library buildings in Canada created increased support for library service in the country (Beckman “The Best Gift” 177). For many thousands of Canadian users of Carnegie libraries, they provided “education, opportunity, and adventure” as well as “a necessary stability and permanence”, which would make Carnegie proud (Beckman “The Best Gift” 177). Carnegie continues to be honored today by the fact that many of his library gifts are still in use in the communities where he donated them. Another way that Carnegie was honored was through the issuing of a Canadian stamp on February 29th, 1996 of the Victoria Public Library (in British Columbia) built in 1904 (“Carnegie Libraries on Stamps” np). Carnegie libraries changed the face of library service in Canada and are a lasting reminder today of one man’s great generosity.
Links to Further Information and Photos of the Canadian Carnegie Librarie
This site lists 59 of the Ontario Carnegie libraries and provides detailed information and photos on each one.
Wikipedia article on the Canadian Carnegie Libraries listing locations, grant dates, amounts, date opened, current status, etc.
Further information on Andrew Carnegie and his library philanthropy.
Site from Collections Canada with many photos of the Canadian Carnegie Libraries.
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The Best Gift:A Record of the Carnegie Libraries in Ontario
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