Carnegie Corp. Repeats History With New Library Grants

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In 1899, the industrialist Andrew Carnegie began a historic quest to create free public libraries around the world. Now, a century later, one of the foundations that bear his name is doling out $15 million in grants in the same spirit to libraries across the country.

The Carnegie Corporation of New York, a philanthropy founded by Mr. Carnegie in 1911, last week unveiled its plans to mark the centennial period of his gift-giving campaign by donating grants of $500,000 to $2 million to library systems in 25 cities with culturally diverse populations. Many of the new grants are earmarked for programs and materials aimed at children and adolescents.

Andrew Carnegie

"The aim of this initiative is to highlight the central role of America's public libraries in preparing young people, adults, and newcomers for a new century in which knowledge and creative thinking will be the basis for individual advancement," Thomas H. Kean, the chairman of the corporation's board of trustees, said in a written statement announcing the initiative.

Most of the urban libraries selected to receive the awards also benefited from Mr. Carnegie's largess between 1899 and 1906. Altogether, Mr. Carnegie and the corporation eventually plowed $56 million into building 2,506 public libraries in the United States and a half-dozen or more other English-speaking countries.

After-School Programs

In Houston, for example, a $50,000 gift from the steel magnate in 1899 built the city's first public library, an Italian Renaissance-style building that opened its doors five years later. Now, 35 branch libraries operate in that city, and one more is scheduled to open later this year.

Sheryl Berger, the public-information officer for the Houston Public Library, said the library's new Carnegie grant, for $500,000, would be used to create a series of special programs and materials for its branches that are aimed at attracting Hispanic children and their families. Even though Hispanics make up 29 percent of Houston's population, they constitute less than a quarter of all library users in the system.

The two-year grants will also help the system expand its after-school programs for children in upper elementary school and middle school. The programs, which provide students with tutoring and computer training, now operate in three branches. But library officials hope to eventually make them available throughout the system.

Ms. Berger said the library would also use the Carnegie aid to supplement a successful drive to get colorful new plastic library cards into the hands of children across the city.

The Cleveland Public Library, which received enough money from Mr. Carnegie to build 15 branch libraries between 1903 and 1914, will use its new $500,000 award to establish programs in all its branches for children from infancy to age 5 and their caregivers, to forge links between the libraries and local child-care centers, and to provide training on early-childhood topics for librarians, neighborhood parents, local educators, and child-care providers.

The largest grants, a total of $4 million for libraries in New York City, will support a variety of efforts ranging from creating special collections for English-language learners to preserving rare films.

Grants of $500,000 each also went to libraries in the following cities: Atlanta-Fulton County, Ga.; Baltimore; Boston; Detroit; Indianapolis-Marion County, Ind.; Kansas City, Mo.; Los Angeles; Miami-Dade County, Fla.; Minneapolis; Newark, N.J.; New Orleans; Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; San Antonio; San Francisco; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Seattle; and Washington.

Vol. 18, Issue 40, Page 6

Published in Print: June 16, 1999, as Carnegie Corp. Repeats History With New Library Grants
Web Resources
  • Read a brief description about the projects from each of the 25 public libraries receiving grant money from the Carnegie Corporation. Also, here's a general overview of the organization.
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