Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Carnegie Libraries

Did you know that 2,509 Carnegie libraries were built between 1883 and 1929? Our library is a Carnegie library that has been added to. It was originally built in 1915 and is on the National Historic Register. This library was built in the "prairie style" which is characterized by open plans, flat roofs, broad overhanging eaves and windows grouped in horizontal bands. This was a 19th and early 20th century architectural style, most common to the Midwestern United States.

Many large Carnegie libraries were built from sandstone but the larger majority were built of brick. While more expensive to build, it was less expensive to maintain than wood. None of the Carnegie libraries were build of wood, even in communities where the lumber industry was the mainstay of the economy.

Until 1908, communities could build any style of building they saw fit. Because many plans became too extravagant, Carnegie started requiring communities to submit plans before building began, and soon after that he started sending out a book of suggested plans to the communities. The most commonly adopted plans called for a main floor with an adult reading area on one side, a children's area on the other, and the librarian's desk between the two. The front door was located in the middle opposite the librarian. The exterior was left to the discretion of the community, but most welcomed patrons to enter through a prominent doorway, nearly always accessed via a staircase. The entry staircase symbolized a person's elevation by learning. Similarly, outside virtually every library was a lamppost or lantern meant as a symbol of enlightenment.

The design of the Carnegie library has been given credit for encouraging communication with the librarian. It also created an opportunity for people to browse and discover books on their own and to choose for themselves what books they wanted to read. Prior to Carnegie,  libraries were closed stacked and the librarian would have to get the book off the stacks for the patron.

Take a look at the historic portion of our library to see remnants of these ideas still in existence here today.

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