What hundreds of American public libraries owe to Carnegie’s disdain for inherited wealth

Photo: Carnegie Library at Mount Vernon Square, formerly the Central Public Library, 801 K St., NW, Washington, D.C.
Carol M. Highsmith

Guest Post by  Arlene Weismantel, Michigan State University

The same ethos that turned Andrew Carnegie into one of the biggest philanthropists of all time made him a fervent proponent of taxing big inheritances. As the steel magnate wrote in his seminal 1899 essay, The Gospel of Wealth:

“Of all forms of taxation this seems the wisest. By taxing estates heavily at death the State marks its condemnation of the selfish millionaire’s unworthy life.”

Carnegie argued that handing large fortunes to the next generation wasted money, as it was unlikely that descendants would match the exceptional abilities that had created the wealth into which they were born. He also surmised that dynasties harm heirs by robbing their lives of purpose and meaning.

He practiced what he preached and was still actively giving in 1911 after he had already given away 90 percent of his wealth to causes he cared passionately about, especially libraries. As a pioneer of the kind of large-scale American philanthropy now practiced by the likes of Bill Gates and George Soros, he espoused a philosophy that many of today’s billionaires who want to leave their mark through good works are still following.

A modest upbringing

The U.S. government had taxed estates for brief periods ever since the days of the Founders, but the modern estate tax took root only a few years before Carnegie died in 1919.

That was one reason why the great philanthropist counseled his fellow ultra-wealthy Americans to give as much of their money away as they could to good causes – including the one he revolutionized: public libraries. As a librarian who has held many leadership roles in Michigan, where Carnegie funded the construction of 61 libraries, I am always mindful of his legacy.

Carnegie’s modest upbringing helped inspire his philanthropy, which left its mark on America’s cities large and small. After mechanization had put his father out of work, Carnegie’s family immigrated from Dunfermline, Scotland, to the U.S. in 1848, where they settled in Allegheny, Pennsylvania.

The move ended his formal education, which had begun when he was eight years old. Carnegie, then 13, went to work as a bobbin boy in a textile factory to help pay the family’s bills. He couldn’t afford to buy books and he had no way to borrow them in a country that would have 637 public libraries only half a century later.

In 1850, Carnegie, by then working as a messenger, learned that iron manufacturer Colonel James Anderson let working boys visit his 400-volume library on Saturdays. Among those books, “the windows were opened in the walls of my dungeon through which the light of knowledge streamed in,” Carnegie wrote, explaining how the experience both thrilled him and changed his life.

Books kept him and other boys “clear of low fellowship and bad habits,” Carnegie said later. He called that library the source of his largely informal education.

Carnegie eventually built a monument to honor Anderson. The inscription credits Anderson with founding free libraries in western Pennsylvania and opening “the precious treasures of knowledge and imagination through which youth may ascend.”

This postage stamp depicted the steelmaker in a library, halfway through a book.

Supporting communities

Carnegie believed in exercising discretion and care with charitable largess. People who became too dependent on handouts were unwilling to improve their lot in life and didn’t deserve them, in his opinion. Instead, he sought to “use wealth so as to be really beneficial to the community.”

For the industrial titan, that meant supporting the institutions that empower people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps like universities, hospitals and, above all, libraries.

In Carnegie’s view, “the main consideration should be to help those who will help themselves.” Free libraries were, in Carnegie’s opinion, among the best ways to lend a hand to anyone who deserved it.

Carnegie built 2,509 libraries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, 1,679 of them across the U.S. in nearly every state. All told, he spent US$55 million of his wealth on libraries. Adjusted for inflation, that would top $1.3 billion today.

Some were grand but about 70 percent of these libraries served towns of less than 10,000 and cost less than $25,000 (at that time) to build.

A lasting legacy

Through Carnegie’s philanthropy, libraries became pillars of civic life and the nation’s educational system.

More than 770 of the original Carnegie libraries still function as public libraries today and others are landmarks housing museums or serving other public functions. More importantly, the notion that libraries should provide everyone with the opportunity to freely educate and improve themselves is widespread.

I believe that Carnegie would be impressed with how libraries have adapted to carry out his cherished mission of helping people rise by making computers available to those without them, hosting job fairs and offering resume assistance among other services.

Public libraries in Michigan, for example, host small business resource centers, hold seminars and provide resources for anyone interested in starting their own businesses. The statewide Michigan eLibrary reinforces this assistance through its online offerings.

The Michigan eLibrary, however, gets federal funding through the Institute of Museum and Library Services. And the Trump administration has tried to gut this spending on local libraries. Given Carnegie’s passions, he surely would have opposed those cuts, along with the bid by President Donald Trump and Republican lawmakers to get rid of the estate tax.

Following in Carnegie’s footsteps, the Gates family has supported internet access for libraries in low-income communities and libraries located abroad. Several billionaires, including Buffett, have publicly professed their support for the estate tax. A philosophy of giving and public responsibility may be one of Carnegie’s most enduring legacies.Outside of government, Carnegie’s ideas about philanthropy are still making a difference. In the Giving Pledge, contemporary billionaires, including Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett, have promised to give away at least half of their wealth during their lifetimes to benefit the greater good instead of leaving it to their heirs.

The ConversationEditor’s Note: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a strategic partner of The Conversation US and provides funding for The Conversation internationally as does the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Arlene Weismantel, Senior Associate Director, Libraries, Michigan State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Re-posted under a CC BY-ND 4.0 license. Read the original article.

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New updates bring Audible to basic Kindle and new customization options

Today’s announcement of the all-new Kindle Oasis included big news on the integration of Audible audiobooks into the device.  Audible integration will roll out as an update when the new Oasis device ships on October 31, 2017.

Also included in the announcement was the news that the basic, entry-level Kindle (current generation 8), along with the first generation Oasis,  will also be getting Audible integration over the coming months. This may be a feature that makes the basic Kindle (which does not have a backlight) more desirable as a device for prospective owners. As noted in this post on The eBook Reader, at least according to its reviews,  the basic, entry level kindle is not well liked.

Today’s announcement also included news of new firmware updates that would add new settings for reading customization, including new font sizes, bolding options and new margin options including an option for left-aligned  /ragged right text..

The new features are:

  • New Font Size and Bold Settings: Now choose from more font sizes than ever before–and five levels of boldness–for whichever font you choose to read with. Combined with the new, 7-inch Paperwhite display, you can personalize your books so it’s perfectly comfortable for your eyes.
  • New Accessibility Options: In addition to the OpenDyslexic font, we’ve added a feature to invert black and white on the display if you have light sensitivity. The new enlarged display option also lets you increase the size of items like the text on the home screen and library as well as the book icons to make the all-new Kindle Oasis easier to read.
  • Light Settings: Built-in ambient light sensors automatically adjust the display to your surroundings whether you’re in a dimly-lit room or outside in the sun–and can be fine-tuned even further based on personal preferences.
  • Ragged Right Alignment: You can now read using left-aligned (ragged right) text.

To me, one of the most intriguing of the new features is the ability to invert black-and-white on the display for those with light sensitivity. This is generally a feature found on apps and tablets, not e-ink readers (although there is supposedly a hack for the Kobo line here.). My old Literarti e-reader had this feature, and I can tell you, being able to read white text on a black screen in a dark room Is a great feature for reading in the middle of the night without disturbing your partner! 🙂

The new firmware features will be delivered as a free over the air update to the Kindle Paperwhite and newer devices starting today.

Amazon releases new kindle Oasis model

Given the recent number of sales on Amazon’s Kindle line and the upcoming 10th anniversary of the release of the original Kindle, many, including myself, expected the announcement of a new Kindle was in the works.

Today, Amazon announced an all-new kindle Oasis. The new device has a larger, 7″, 300 ppi display. The device is also  waterproof, a feature that many other high end e-readers already have and one that many customers have been asking for. The device is IPX8 rated, which protects against immersion in up to 2 meters of water for up to 60 minutes. According to Amazon, there are also battery improvements to the new device.

Probably one of the most frequently requested features for the Kindle is for the return of the text-to-speech features for the e-Ink devices. The TTS function was a feature in the earlier Kindle models and is currently available on e-ink Kindles only via the use of a special adapter. Built in, it is presently only an included feature on the Fire tablets. While Amazon has not restored text-to-speech in this new device, they have integrated Audible audiobooks with the Oasis.(See here to learn about Audible.) This device still doesn’t have a headphone jack or speakers and instead uses a Bluetooth connection to provide audio. You must provide your own Bluetooth headphones or speaker.

The Amazon description says,”With Audible built in, you never have to put your story down and can switch easily between reading and listening without changing devices.” It is unclear if that implies whether this model will be capable of enhanced Immersion Reading, which allows for both audio and reading highlighted text at the same time.

Because this device is designed to work with Audible files which are quite large, the device comes with more storage and more storage options. It is available in an 8GB configuration which is twice the amount of storage included with the original Oasis. The device also comes in a 32GB configuration, which will be helpful for storing the larger file sizes associated with  audio books, comic books, etc.

One of the most interesting changes to the new Oasis is the fact that it does away with the integrated battery cover of the previous model.  (You can read my views on that cover here.) The previous model’s covers were only available in leather, a fact that was upsetting to many who preferred a vegan option for a cover. This model’s covers come in a variety of colors in both fabric and leather options.

The new Oasis costs $249.99 for the 8GB WiFi-only model. The 32GB WiFi-only model is $279.99. The Oasis is also available in a 32 GB cellular configuration for $349.99. Fabric covers sell for $44.99 and leather covers cost $59.99

All models are available for pre-order now and will start shipping October 31, 2017.

Internet Archive introduces Sonny Bono Memorial book collection

The Internet Archive has announced the Sonny Bono Memorial Collection of books. The collection was created utilizing a relatively obscure provision of copy right law, Section 108h, which allows libraries to make available works published between 1923 and 1941 if they meet certain criteria. As long as the books are not currently being sold , libraries can scan the books and make them available.

The collection’s name, the Sonny Bono Memorial Collection, refers to the Copyright Term Extension Act sponsored by Rep. Sonny Bono.

According to the Internet archive, the hope is that other libraries will follow their lead in creating what they refer to as “Last Twenty Collections”, so-called because the law allows libraries to make available books which are in the last 20 years of their copyright.  The Internet Archive intends to add another 10,000 books to this collection in the near future.

The project helps to address the serious issue of the shrinking number of works freely available in the public domain. You can read more about the history of this project here at the Internet Archive blog.

Old Kindle forums closed, redesigned help forum unveiled

As I wrote about last week, Amazon announced that it would be closing its Kindle discussion forums. The original closure date was listed on a banner as October 6, 2017.

(Click picture to enlarge)

Amazon later posted that the forum would actually close on October 13, 2017:

When announcing the discussion forum closure, Amazon had promised a new, improved experience in the Kindle Help forum on October 9, 2017. As I noted in my last post, the main difference between the two is that the Kindle customer discussion forum included off-topic discussions and was a separate forum from the official Kindle help forum.

Amazon actually closed the forums on the original date, Friday, October 6th. Amazon did the same thing to the forums on IMDB.com, announcing one date and then closing the forums in advance of the deadline. (And, no, users were NOT happy.)  Amazon seems to have closed ALL of customer discussion forums as of Friday.  All of my bookmarked pages are returning error messages.

The newly redesigned Kindle Help forum is now up and running. It has a very different interface that the old one and includes sections for the Kindle, Fire, Fire TV, Echo and Alexa, and Digital Content. The forum also has its own unique (and easier to remember) URL: amazonforum.com. For now at least, the old forum URL still works and redirects to the new domain name.

Have you checked out the new forum design? What do you think?

Amazon confirms Kindle, Fire discussion forums to close October 13, 2017

Amazon has officially announced on the that the Kindle discussion forum (https://www.amazon.com/forum/kindle) will be closing on Friday, October 13, 2017.

The pinned notice on the board reads:

Amazon would like to thank the members of this community for contributing to the discussion forums. As we grow and evolve, we encourage you to explore Goodreads Groups for books and Spark for other ways to engage with your interests. If you have a help question about your device, starting the morning of October 9th , Pacific Standard Time, we will be introducing an improved help forum experience, with expanded discussion categories.

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/group
Spark: https://www.amazon.com/b?node=16907772011

The post is closed to comments.

The discussion forum has been around for ten years, since the announcement of the very first Kindle. It contained Kindle-oriented topics, including popular threads on discounted Kindle books. Customers also discussed various issues and  customers offered other customers unofficial assistance. (Note that the forum that is closing is the Kindle Discussion forum, not the official Kindle Help Community forum.)

Almost the same notice is posted on the Fire forums at https://www.amazon.com/forum/fire/.

There had been a lot of speculation on various discussion threads about Amazon closing the forum since some members had intermittently seen a banner announcing the forums closing on October 6, 2017. It seems that much of the confusion was probably caused by the fact that everyone was not seeing the banner and even those who saw it didn’t see it consistently.

According to threads on the forum, prior to the notice, people were calling Kindle support and getting a variety of answers about the closing.

For many years, you could access the Kindle forums, via a menu link on the main Kindle page. Over the last year, Amazon had deprecated that function and the forum was difficult to find unless you had it bookmarked or were subscribed to email notifications on one of the various topic threads.

Amazon had also recently removed the search function from the forums.

Before I bought my first Kindle, this forum was a tremendous help. I was able to read about the Kindle and get the opinions of people who actually owned and were using the device. Given the fact that the device was $400 at the time, that forum was instrumental for me in researching and ultimately deciding to buy my first Kindle. I don’t think I would have bought my first Kindle without it. It was also a godsend in learning how use the new device.

As a blogger, I also found it a great source of information about issues that affected both the e-ink Kindle and the Fire tablets. Many of my posts on Amazon devices had their genesis in post on the Kindle discussion forum.

The forums also had a dark side.  Many of the regular posters on the forum could be quite snarky about repeatedly answering the same questions over and over again. Authors self-promoting books was also a problem and downvoting topics was a constant source of contention.

Given the fact that Amazon has also done away with the forums on sites like IMDB.com, I am not surprised the they are closing the forum. It is sad, however.

Amazon is directing customers to Goodreads and Spark (an Amazon community exclusive to Prime members). There are members suggesting everyone write Jefff Bezos at jeff@amazon.com to ask for a reprieve on the forums. Some customers are also discussing starting communities on other sites such as Reddit as a replacement.  You can also find already thriving communities on Kboards and Mobileread.

The new Kindle Help Community update will be available on October 9, 2017.

Did you use the Kindle Discussion forum? Are you going to miss it?

E-ink Kindles on sale for Prime Members

Amazon is having a special sale just for Prime members on their e-ink Kindles. Savings vary from $30 to $50, depending on the model of Kindle. Models available include the pricey Kindle Oasis, which is often not included in the Kindle sales.

Available models are:

You can also find travel bundles for the Paperwhite and the Kindle Voyage that add a cute travel bag to the device/cover bundle.

November 2017 marks the 10th anniversary of the release of the first Kindle e-reader. There’s been a lot of speculation over whether Amazon will release a new Kindle model this year. The limited availability of the top of the line Kindle Oasis and the fact that the Oasis is included in the Prime members’ sale makes me cautiously optimistic that we may indeed see a new e-ink this November.

Not a Prime member? You can sign up here and still take advantage of the sale! Sale prices are good until October 9, 2017.