In our current digital age, libraries everywhere are faced with redefining how they will serve their communities. This leaves the legacy of libraries which Andrew Carnegie donated to communities around the world in a precarious position, their older historic buildings being abandoned, sold off, and demolished at an increasing rate.
To meet this crisis, 22 concerned individuals attended a special meeting on Saturday, October 2, 2004 at the close of the annual preservation convention of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which took place this year in Louisville, Kentucky. At the end of the meeting in the Louisville Carneige Library's main branch, those present decided to form a new organization dedicated to the preservation of historic Carnegie Libraries worldwide.
The meeting discussed the critical situation, who is doing what now, and what can best be done to preserve historic libraries. It was pointed out that library associations are primarily concerned with library operations and have little or no interest in historic preservation. With library boards filled by people whose duty is not historic preservation, they are often all too happy to discard their older historic buildings.
Friends of the Library groups often have members who are concerned about preserving the historic buildings, but the groups are created to support those operating the libraries and not to challenge their decisions. This tends to co-opt some of the most concerned voices while the others help promote management's decision.
Historic preservation organizations, on the other hand, are typically concerned with keeping the exterior architecture intact. The pursuit of alternative uses being their primary strategy, they do not push to continue a library building's use as a library. As a result, historic interiors and furnishings are frequently lost. This has the side affect of dramatically reducing the historic significance of the library building. When the alternative use stops and no other is found or a subsequent reuse of the land comes along which doesn't want the building, then, as a diminished historic relic, it is more likely to face demolition.
The best way to protect historic Carnegie library buildings is to maintain them as working library resources in their communities. Unfortunately, to date there has not been a national or international organization with the sole and specific purpose of proactively advocating, fostering, and facilitating efforts to keep historic Carnegie Libraries functioning as libraries. This new organization will be charged with doing just that.
Please check back again soon for more information about this new organization and how you can get involved. We will be including opportunities on this website for you to participate in this important international effort, both online and locally in your own community. In the meantime, you can contact: info at carnegielibraries.info
* 2006 Nov. 3 - 2006 National Preservation Conference, Pittsburgh
Sponsored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, with
local sponsorship (2006) by the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation.
Session - Carnegie Libraries: Challenges and Solutions - Presentations:
* "The Architecture of Literacy, Carnegie Libraries in the U.S." by Mary B. Dierickx, President, Mary B. Dierickx Architectural Preservation Consultants
* "How to Save Carnegie Libraries as Libraries" By Joe Rizzo, AIA, ALA, Principal, Hillier Architecture
* "Primary Impediments to Historic Preservation: EGO and MONEY !" By Glenn A. Walsh, Project Director, Friends of the Zeiss