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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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.

It is National Library Week!

This week, April 9-15, is National Library Week. This year’s theme is Libraries Transform. The theme celebrates the shifting focus of libraries. The modern library is no longer just about having books, periodicals, or music music available for patrons; modern libraries are increasingly more about doing things for and with people and a greater role as a community shared space.

The official hashtags for the week are #NationalLibraryWeek and #LibrariesTransform. There are also official “I Love Libraries” accounts to follow on Facebook and Twitter.

Just a few of the highlight events for the National Library Week:

Monday, April 10, 2017, the Top Ten List of Most Challenged Books for 2016 will be released in the ALA 2017 State of America’s Library Report.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017 is National Library Workers Day, a day to celebrate the contributions of library workers.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017 is National Bookmobile Day. The days celebrates bookmobiles and the community outreach done by the awesome professionals who work with bookmobile programs.

Thursday, April 13, 2017 is Take Action for Libraries Day. Libraries will be asking for help to save federal funding for libraries.

During the entire week, there is also an Expert in the Library Promotion. Give a shout out on social media and let the world know what your librarian is an expert in. Use the “hashtag #expertinthelibrary and  and post between Saturday, April 8 at noon CT and Saturday, April 15 at noon CT for a chance to win the $100 Visa gift card.” (More details here.)

You and find graphics, details and more information at the I Love Libraries and ALA websites.

Here on the Ebook Evangelist, we’ll be celebrating with a series of posts focusing on libraries and ebooks. 🙂

Library ebook poll

Here’s a question for those of you who borrow ebooks from your library: When do you return them?

Edited to add: I am gathering info for a article on library hold times.

The challenge facing libraries in an era of fake news

library

Written by Donald A. Barclay, University of California, Merced

Imagine, for a moment, the technology of 2017 had existed on Jan. 11, 1964 – the day Luther Terry, surgeon general of the United States, released “Smoking and Health: Report of the Advisory Committee to the Surgeon General of the United States.”

What would be some likely scenarios?

The social media noise machine explodes; conservative websites immediately paint the report as a nanny-government attack on personal freedom and masculinity; the report’s findings are hit with a flood of satirical memes, outraged Facebook posts, attack videos and click-bait fake news stories; Big Tobacco’s publicity machine begins pumping out disinformation via both popular social media and pseudoscientific predatory journals willing to print anything for a price; Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater characterizes “Smoking and Health” a “communist-inspired hoax.”

Eventually, the Johnson administration distances itself from the surgeon general’s controversial report.

Of course none of the above actually occurred. While Big Tobacco spent decades doing all that it could to muddy the waters on the health impacts of smoking, in the end scientific fact triumphed over corporate fiction.

Today, thanks to responsible science and the public policies it inspired, only 15 percent of adults in the United States smoke, down from 42.4 percent in 1965.

One might ask: Would it have been possible to achieve this remarkable public health victory had today’s social media environment of fake news and information echo chambers existed in 1964?

Maybe not. As a long-time academic librarian, I have spent a good part of my career teaching college students to think critically about information. And the fact is that I watch many of them struggle with the challenges of discovering, internalizing, evaluating and applying credible information. For me, the recent spate of stories about large segments of the population falling for fake news stories was no surprise.

Making sense of information is hard, maybe increasingly so in today’s world. So what role have academic libraries played in helping people make sense of world bursting at the seams with information?

History of information literacy

Since the 19th century, academic librarians have been actively engaged in teaching students how to negotiate increasingly complex information environments.

Evidence exists of library instruction dating back to the 1820s at Harvard University. Courses on using libraries emerged at a number of colleges and universities after the Civil War. Until well into the 20th century, however, academic librarians largely gave library building tours, and their instruction was aimed at mastery of the local card catalog.

Beginning in the 1960s, academic librarians experienced a broadening of their role in instruction. This broadening was inspired by a number of factors: increases in the sheer size of academic library collections; the emergence of such technologies as microfilm, photocopiers and even classroom projection; and such educational trends as the introduction of new majors and emphasis on self-directed learning.

An elementary school librarian in the 1980s. theunquietlibrarian, CC BY-NC

The new instructional role of academic librarians was notably reflected in the coining of the phrase “information literacy” in 1974 by Paul G. Zurkowski, then president of the Information Industry Association.

Rather than being limited to locating items in a given library, information literacy recognized that students needed to be equipped with skills required to identify, organize and cite information. More than that, it focused on the ability to critically evaluate the credibility and appropriateness of information sources.

Changes in a complex world

In today’s digital world, information literacy is a far more complex subject than it was when the phrase was coined. Back then, the universe of credible academic information was analog and (for better or worse) handpicked by librarians and faculty.

Students’ information hunting grounds was effectively limited to the campus library, and information literacy amounted to mastering a handful of relatively straightforward skills, such as using periodical indexes and library catalogs, understanding the difference between primary and secondary sources of information, and distinguishing between popular and scholarly books and journals.

Today, the situation is far more nuanced. And not just because of the hyperpartisan noise of social media.

Thirty or 40 years ago, a student writing a research paper on the topic of acid rain might have needed to decide whether an article from a scientific journal like Nature was a more appropriate source than an article from a popular magazine like Time.

Today’s students, however, must know how to distinguish between articles published by genuine scholarly journals and those churned out by look-alike predatory and fake journals that falsely claim to be scholarly and peer-reviewed.

This is a far trickier proposition.

Further complicating the situation is the relativism of the postmodern philosophy underpinning much of postmodern scholarly thinking. Postmodernism rejects the notion that concepts such as truth and beauty exist as absolutes that can be revealed through the work of creative “authorities” (authors, painters, composers, philosophers, etc.).

While postmodernism has had such positive effects as opening up the literary canon beyond the writings of the proverbial “dead white males,” it has simultaneously undermined the concept of authority. If, as postmodernist philosophy contends, truth is constructed rather than given, what gives anyone the right to say one source of information is credible and another is not?

Further complicating the situation are serious questions surrounding the legitimacy of mainstream scholarly communication. In addition to predatory and fake journals, recent scandals include researchers faking results, fraudulent peer review and the barriers to conducting and publishing replication studies that seek to either verify or disprove earlier studies.

So, what’s the future?

In such an environment, how is a librarian or faculty member supposed to respond to a bright student who sincerely asks, “How can you say that a blog post attacking GMO food is less credible than some journal article supporting the safety of GMO food? What if the journal article’s research results were faked? Have the results been replicated? At the end of the day, aren’t facts a matter of context?”

How can students be trained to be information-literate? Mary Woodard, CC BY-NC-ND

In recognition of a dynamic and often unpredictable information landscape and a rapidly changing higher education environment in which students are often creators of new knowledge rather than just consumers of information, the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) launched its Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, the first revision to the ACRL’s standards for information literacy in over 15 years.

The framework recognizes that information literacy is too nuanced to be conceived of as a treasure hunt in which information resources neatly divide into binary categories of “good” and “bad.”

Notably, the first of the framework’s six subsections is titled “Authority Is Constructed and Contextual” and calls for librarians to approach the notions of authority and credibility as dependent on the context in which the information is used rather than as absolutes.

This new approach asks students to put in the time and effort required to determine the credibility and appropriateness of each information source for the use to which they intend to put it.

For students this is far more challenging than either a) simply accepting authority without question or b) rejecting all authority as an anachronism in a post-truth world. Formally adopted in June 2016, the framework represents a way forward for information literacy.

While I approve of the direction taken by the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, I do not see it as the ultimate solution to the information literacy challenge. Real progress in information literacy will require librarians, faculty and administrators working together.

Indeed, it will require higher education, as well as secondary and primary education, to make information literacy a priority across the curriculum. Without such concerted effort, a likely outcome could be a future of election results and public policies based on whatever information – credible or not – bubbles to the top of the social media noise machine.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.  Reposted under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

Library Corner 2-5-2016

Library corner imageHere is this week’s roundup of library news:

US Library News:

Public libraries vital role in digital empowerment (Digital Libraries Hub) – Infographic about the digital services libraries supply to communities.

New/Updated Resource Guides For Three Public Health Topics in the News (Infodocket) The Flint water crisis, the Califormia methane gas leak and the Zikka virus health risk are all matters of extreme interest right now.

Beyond Books: Why Some Libraries Now Lend Tools, Toys and More (US News & World Report) – The Library of Things: there is more than books, music and films available at your library now.

What happens when libraries are asked to help the homeless find shelter (Washington Post) – We are demanding a lot more of our libraries. Are the social services they are being asked to provide interfering with the libraries’ core mission?

California: First class of LA library’s online high school completion program earns diplomas (My News LA) – What an amazing idea for a Library Program!

International Library News:

Australia: Inside the NSW State Library’s $72m digitisation program (IT News) – How a 188 year old library struggles to preserve and access its content in the digital age.

Dubai to build Dh1 billion library shaped like a book (Gulf News) – Designed to hold millions of books, the library and culture center is intended to bridge the learning gap in the Arab world.

Policy and Privacy:

Designing for the Library Website (Michigan University Library) – There’s an specific set of goals and challenges in designing a library website.

OverDrive Local Content Lets Libraries Upload, Grow Their Local eBook Catalog (The Digital Reader) – As more and more people are publishing, the ability to add local authors to a library’s catalog is a necessary function.

Both LYRASIS and DuraSpace Boards Approve “Intention to Merge” But Deal Not Final (Infodocket) – LYRASIS and DuraSpace both provide important services to libraries,  archives and museums. They are seeking feedback from member organizations.

The IFLA Position on Public Lending Right (2016) (IFLA) – Public Lending Rights (PLR) don’t apply to ebooks and don’t exist in a lot of countries. Can we balance the rights of authors and users?

Copyright:

Europe’s top court mulls legality of hyperlinks to copyrighted content (Ars Technica) – One change in EU copyright law could threaten the Internet as we know it.

Reference and Statistics: 

New/Updated Resource Guides For Three Public Health Topics in the News (Infodocket) – Updated information on the Zika virus, the Lead in the Flint, Michigan Water supply crisis and the Aliso Canyon Natural Gas (Methane) Leak.

Reference: Facts and Stats About the Black Population in the United States (Black History Month 2016) (Infodocket) – Resourcesfor Black History Month

Digital Collections:

MSU Library, Yellowstone park launch ‘Yellowstone Collection (Montana University)

Plan to Digitize 32 Years of PBS NewsHour Programs (1975-2007) and Make Them Available Online Announced Today (Infodocket)

Idaho: Attorney General Makes Catalogue of Opinions, Annual Reports Available to the Public (AG.Idaho.gov)

Database of classical works now freely searchable (Cornell Challenge)

About once a week, I post links to digital-related library news articles and information about digital collections available online.  I also post other links of interest about the digital life daily on the Google Plus eBook Evangelist Page.

Library Corner 1-28-2016

Library corner imageHere is this week’s roundup of library news:

US Library News:

DPLA Adds New “Primary Source Sets” For Grades 6-12 and Higher Education (Infodocket) – These sets are designed for students and teachers in grades 6-12 and higher education.

S.F. library rolls out Biblio Bistro for lessons on cooking (SF Gate) – Yes,  you can incorporate cooking healthy food into a library program. This is inspiring!

California: LA Public Library Launching a Two-Week Valentine’s Day Themed Amnesty Program For Overdue Materials (Infodocket) – This is an innovative library amnesty program.

*UPDATE* Wisconsin: Committee OKs bill expanding library powers (KSL) – Bill allowing police involvement for overdue books clears another hurdle.

Iowa: In Dubuque, no ‘Appraisal’ worth losing Wood’s works (TH Online) –  Library turns down $6 million for painting in collection.

International Library News:

Canada: What happens when you find a long-lost violin concerto in a library basement? (CBC) – A concerto is by the Norwegian found in the collection of Canadian violinist Kathleen Parlow.

Policy and Privacy:

Amid Controversy, Scholastic Pulls Picture Book About Washington’s Slave (NPR) – This article discusses the other side of history that exists amidst claims of whitewashing the topic of slavery.

Penguin Random House Ebooks Now Licensed for Perpetual Access (American Library) – No more limits on the time period or number of circulations for Penguin Random House content. But the pricing is a different story.

Copyright:

U.S. Department of Commerce Recommends Amendments to Statutory Damages Provisions in Copyright Act (USPTO) – A new white paper looks at some of the issues connected with current copyright law such as remixes, first sale doctrine and the complicated issues of infringement and statutory damages.

Reference and Statistics:

Education: An International Database of Learning Assessments (Infodocket)

Introducing New Hampshire Public Radios’s Election Database (NHPR)

New “State of the Climate” Report/Data: “2015 is Earth’s Warmest Year by Widest Margin on Record” (Infodocket)

American Cancer Society Launches New Cancer Statistics Web Site  (American Cancer Society)

Digital Collections:

Games to Learn By: National Library of Medicine Announces Three New Resources for Students (NLM)

Making the Work of Florence Nightingale Available (BU Today)

View Online: A Film From 1963 Provides a Look at “Inner Workings” of the National Library of Medicine (NLM) (Infodocket)

Shakespeare Documented: Largest Online Shakespeare Resource Launches (PR News)

New “Europeana Collections” Website (Beta) Now Live (Infodocket)

The Internet Archive’s New “Political TV Ad Archive” Launches Tomorrow (Infodocket)

Texas State Library and Archives Commission Launches Texas Digital Archive (Texas State Library)

About once a week, I post links to digital-related library news articles and information about digital collections available online.  I also post other links of interest about the digital life daily on the Google Plus eBook Evangelist Page.