aprilhenry (aprilhenry) wrote,

Andrew Carnegie and Me

November 25 was the birthday of Andrew Carnegie, the American steel magnate and philanthropist. He grew up in Scotland. At the age of 13, he was already working as a milk hand. Then his family immigrated to America and he took a job in a factory in Pittsburgh. He wanted to get an education. While there were public libraries, they weren't free. People paid an annual fee to become a library member. Carnegie couldn't afford it, so he wrote a letter to the editor of the Pittsburgh Dispatch, arguing that poor young people should be given free access to libraries so that they could improve themselves. The director of Carnegie's local library read the letter, and it persuaded him to change the rule.

Carnegie began teaching himself. He learned how to use a telegraph. He got a job as a telegraph operator, and then attracted the notice of an executive with the Pennsylvania Railroad, and became the executive's personal secretary and telegrapher. At the age of 24, he was named the Pennsylvania Railroad's vice president. He became an investor, and built a steel empire, and then at the height of his career, he sold his company. He was one of the richest men in the world, but he spent the rest of his life giving his fortune away to charity.

This included building about 3,000 libraries across the country, including one where I grew up, in Medford, Oregon. Above the entrance it read PVBLIC LIBRARY, at least that's how it looked to me. For me, going to the library was like Christmas morning, only it happened once a week. When I turned 16, my first job was at that library. I was really still half a kid myself, so when I was supposed to be shelving books, I would hide in the stacks and read the latest Judy Bloom book. (Full disclosure: I once slipped and called my boss "Mom.")

And years later, my books were in that library. How cool is that?

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Tags: public libraries
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