Our modern day society thrives on information. We watch the news. We read articles in the newspaper. We scour the Internet for information. We use our phones to receive information whenever and wherever we want. People from the 19th and 20th centuries were not so different from us in their longing for information.
In the late 1800’s libraries were the central hubs of information for a community. Scores of people went to libraries. Andrew Carnegie wrote that the user statistics for a library established by Enoch Platt in Baltimore showed that 37,196 people were registered as “readers” and that more than 37,000 people used that library in just one year (Librarianship in the Gilded Age America: An Anthology of Writings 1868-1901 by L.C. Schlup, p. 106)!
Andrew Carnegie, incredible philanthropist, was himself a seeker of knowledge. According the National Park Service, as a young boy Carnegie met Col. James Anderson of Allegheny who opened his personal library up to young workers who wished to borrow books. When, in 1853, access to this book collection was denied, Carnegie (who was less than 18 years old) pledged to establish access to books for poor workers if he, himself, ever became rich.
And that is just what Carnegie did! He accumulated enormous wealth and would be in the category of today’s elite wealthy, such as Bill Gates. In the 1890’s Carnegie began to give away his fortune, mostly for the establishment of libraries, with no strings attached. At that time there were only 400 libraries in the entire United States, with only four public libraries in Texas (Carnegie Libraries Across America: A Public Legacy by T. Jones)!
The Fort Worth Public Library was the result of Mrs. D. B. Keeler’s letter to Carnegie. Fort Worth received $50,000 (much more than the average figure of less than $10,000) and had an operational library by 1901. By the time Carnegie died in 1919, he had given away more than $350,000,000. Texas had gained 32 Carnegie libraries. Across the United States, 1,689 libraries had been built by the Carnegie Foundation (from Texas Library Journal (Winter 2010) Carnegie Libraries: The Jumpstart to Public Libraries in Texas by L.M.Geppert Jacobs).
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