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A Carnegie Library in 2019, Glasgow Libraries

Category: #Carnegie100, Blog

This blog post is part of our #Carnegie100 series, marking the 100th anniversary of Andrew Carnegie’s death and celebrating his libraries legacy.

A Carnegie Library in 2019

Govanhill Library 1907

by Kevan Smith, Librarian, Glasgow Life/Glasgow Libraries

‘A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never failing spring in the desert.’ – Andrew Carnegie

After working to become one of the richest men on earth, Andrew Carnegie spent the last 18 years of his life donating 90% of his wealth to charities and to the support of foundations and universities.

He had a particular passion for public libraries and provided the funds to build almost 3,000 public libraries across the world. He obviously had a strong emotional attachment to the home of his birth and the first Carnegie Library opened in Dunfermline in 1883. Glasgow was another early beneficiary when in 1901 Andrew Carnegie wrote to Glasgow Lord Provost Sir Samuel Chisholm to offer £100,000 to support the building of branch libraries.

This generous donation led to the building of the branch libraries at Dennistoun, Maryhil, Parkhead, Govanhill, Possilpark, and Woodside which still serve as community libraries to this day. Bridgeton remains too and is thriving as the home to Glasgow Women’s Library. The Glasgow Carnegie libraries were mostly designed by architect James Rhind and his wonderful elegant Baroque designs remain as significant landmarks within their local communities. Andrew Carnegie attended the opening of Elder Park Library in 1903 as a guest of the Elder family who funded the building of the library and he laid the foundation stone at the Mitchell Library in 1907. Unfortunately he was not able to attend the opening of any of the branch libraries he funded.

Maryhill Library, 1907

Some libraries have fallen victim to the redevelopment of the city with Townhead, Anderston and Kinning Park being lost as the building of the M8 reshaped the city. The remaining libraries continue to adapt and change in order to support their communities. Our vision for Glasgow Libraries is that our Libraries are amazing places to read, learn and discover – the trusted guide at the heart of our communities. This vision resonates with Andrew Carnegie’s view that libraries should be ‘a never failing spring in the desert’.

Our libraries are still a fantastic place to read and we look to provide a broad range of reading materials for our varied range of borrowers. We also provide books in a range of formats and in a range of community languages. Our free WiFi and access to PCs ensure digital access is available to the people of Glasgow.

We support book Groups and other activities such as knitting Groups and Local History Groups which offer a great chance for library users to participate and engage with their community. We are also now official partners of Alzheimer Scotland and all our libraries are accredited with the National Autism Society as we look to remove barriers to access of our service.

We support our communities with ESOL classes in our libraries and offer a wide range of Digital learning and Adult Literacy courses with our latest initiative being Codeworks in partnership with JP Morgan and which leads to accredited digital qualifications.

We continue to engage with families with Bookbug sessions in all libraries and other programmes such as Toddlers tales. We have strong relationships with primary schools across the city, with regular class visits in all our libraries and a range of activities such as craft clubs, coderdojo and Lego clubs. The atmosphere has changed a lot from those early years of our Carnegie libraries when children had to enter Parkhead Library via a separate entrance. Today our libraries are alive with activity with over 4,000 children across the city currently participating in the Summer Reading Challenge.

As an organisation we have built strong relationships with partners such as Citizen Advice, The Revenues and Benefits advice service, and Jobs Business Glasgow with these services available within Glasgow libraries across the city. We have also recruited dedicated staff to support those affected by the Universal Credit new claims procedure.

The Macmillan Cancer support and Information service is now firmly embedded in Glasgow Libraries and offers cancer support and information. Complimentary therapies and counselling is also available in the Carnegie library at Dennistoun amongst others.

Our library staff remain dedicated to delivering the library service and supporting their local communities. They are assisted by volunteers who support our Macmillan programme and Digi-PALS who assist with various digital and online activities including job searching and use of the internet.

Andrew Carnegie’s legacy in Glasgow lives on in the libraries he funded which continue to evolve and develop new methods of working and new partnerships fulfil Carnegies wish that we continue to benefit the people of Glasgow.