The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

Local News

May 5, 2013

Library lovers should thank Carnegie

Fifty years later, I remember getting my first library card. What a thrill!

The Danville Public Library was a few blocks from where we lived. Its children’s department was in the basement. The librarian was an old lady with thick glasses that made her eyes look gigantic.

I was in heaven. The shelves were filled with books about Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Indians, Davy Crockett, the Civil War, trees, rocks, crafts, cars, airplanes and other things I liked.

Later, I progressed to the “big library” upstairs, with the adult collection. I still can remember the heady sensation as I walked up those magnificent stone steps, crossed beneath the carved stone portal and opened one of the double doors.

It was a temple of knowledge; I felt ennobled. I was surrounded by thousands of books, newspapers and magazines. The reading room was adorned with stained glass windows, oil paintings, wooden moldings and plaster ornaments.

I was in a new universe, filled with ancient wisdom and undiscovered treasures … all free.

“Wow!” I thought. “It’s fun being an adult!”

Today, I’m thinking, “Thank you, Mr. Carnegie.”

Andrew Carnegie’s legacy was detailed in a book I bought the other day at a library book sale. “Carnegie Libraries” by George S. Bobinski tells the story of one of the greatest philanthropic endeavors ever.

Carnegie, the steel and railroad baron, was a poor Scottish-American immigrant boy who became the richest man in the world. Unlike most gazillionaires, he believed that the rich were obligated to give their fortunes to worthy causes. Carnegie gave away $350 million (in circa-1900 dollars). The final $30 million was given away after his death.

He loved libraries. When he was a bobbin boy in a Pennsylvania cotton mill, earning $1.20 a week, he looked forward to Saturdays, when he could visit a local private library.

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