A Library With A View

One of the treats of being in Pittsburgh at night is a stroll along the Mount Washington Overlook. You can take the incline up the 450 feet or you can drive up and park along the street.

While you’re there, pay attention to some of the architecture. I’m especially fond of this Carnegie Library. The Mount Washington community formed a library association in 1882 and a reading room six years later.

Industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie supported the efforts to build a proper library, funding this nice building which opened May 31, 1900.

The Pittsburgh titan of steel funded 1,689 libraries in the United States and more in other countries. Along the way, he created a revolutionary new self service model. Before this, library employees would retrieve requested books rather than allowing the patron to browse and select their own.

This reduced operating costs and opened a new world of accessibility for readers. He actually introduced this model in Pittsburgh’s neighborhood branch libraries that were built after the city’s main library. It appears this was one that used the new self service model.

I have such respect and appreciation for Carnegie’s support of access to books and reading. Where would our society be if not for the resources provided by our libraries? It’s one of the last places in the world where you can exist, use materials and find enrichment completely for free.

He died in 1919. In the final years of his life, Carnegie gave away $350 million dollars. In modern money, that would be about $5.5 billion. The man was filthy rich but he thought it more important to use his money for philanthropic interests rather than hold onto more money than he could spend in a lifetime.

When you think about the good he did for small towns and neighborhoods across the country, the good he did for the masses is awe inspiring. The next time you pass by a Carnegie library, be sure to pause a moment and say a word of thanks.

Carnegie Library of Xenia

Steel magnate Andrew Carnegie built close to 1,700 libraries in his lifetime. You’ll see a lot of them still used in towns and cities across America. I found one in Xenia while out exploring last weekend.

Carnegie spent about $40 million on his libraries. He believed that libraries were the best gift he could offer a community as it gave equal access to self improvement to all. Some of these libraries are still used for their original function but many have been repurposed into events centers, stores and restaurants. This one, sadly, is just empty.

There had been a revitalization project underway a few years ago but there doesn’t seem to be any movement afoot right now.

The building dates back to 1906 when it opened with a gala affair attended by local social and political leaders. The library eventually outgrew the space this beautiful building offered and a new library was constructed closer to downtown. It was used for storage for a while and then changed hands before eventually being sold to the county. As far as I can tell it has been unused all these years.

Volunteers formed a group called Carnegie Historic District that got it listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2017, the library made headlines for efforts to reimagine the building but things have gone quiet and I can’t tell if there’s anything still happening on that front.

It’s a gorgeous Classical Revival with a stained glass dome and ionic columns. I hate to see it empty but certainly understand why. These types of revitalization efforts are costly, time consuming and a real challenge to fund. Here’s hoping they are able to breathe new life into this exquisite piece of history.