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.

Daily Links and Deals: Libraries and Rural Broadband

daily_links_1Daily Links for Thursday, November 30,  2016:

Google’s training AI to catch diabetic blindness before it’s too late (Engadget) This is a great use of technology to solve a serious medical issue.

Tumblr finally makes SSL connections the default for new blogs (Techcrunch) Nice to know that I can finally re-blog cat memes in relative safety, LOL!

Sling TV is launching a cloud DVR next month (The Verge) Sling TV is upping the game to compete with Playstation Vue and DirectTV Now.

This Android malware is hacking into your Google account to install apps (Mashable) Um…. More than a million accounts have been breached by this “gooligan”.

Libraries and Rural Broadband (Benton Foundation) Interesting article that shows the important role of libraries in helping with internet access in rural areas.

Microsoft Word Viewer has just a year to live (discontinued in November, 2017) (Liliputing) I will be sad to see this one go. This has been a genuinely helpful program.

Deals of the Day:

Amazon’s selection of Kindle Daily Deals includes Labyrinth Lost (Brooklyn Brujas Book 1) by Zoraida Cordova.

In Today’s Deals, get 40% Off Select Security Cameras.

The Barnes and Noble Nook Daily Find is Narconomics: How to Run a Drug Cartel by Tom Wainwright. The Romance Daily Find is Reckless in Texas by Kari Lynn Dell.

Barnes and Noble also has a selection of NOOK Books Under $2.99.

Kobo’s Daily Deal is One Touch of Topaz by Iris Johansen. The Extra Daily Deal is Saga of the God-Touched Mage (Vol 1-8) by Ron Collins for $3.99.

There is also a selection of Great Reads Under $5 and Bargain Reads in Fiction, in Mystery and other genres. The Kobo Aura One (and the Aura Edition 2 e-readers are now available for order at the Kobo store. (The Aura One is still out of stock until early 2017.)

iTunes’ Great Books, Amazing Deals includes Black Chalk by Christopher J Yates.

Google Books has a selection of Topsellers Under $10.

(A note on Daily Deals: All prices current at the time of posting and subject to change. Most items marked Daily Deals are good for only the day posted.

Many large promotions have discount pricing that is set by the publisher. This usually means that titles can be found at a discount price across most platforms (with iTunes sometimes being the exception). If you have a favorite retailer you like to patronize, check the title on that website. There is a good chance that they will be matching the sale price.)


Daily Links are interesting links I discover as I go about my online day. The frequency and number of links posted depend upon the daily news. I also post other, different links of interest on Twitter, Facebook, and on the Google Plus eBook Evangelist Page.

Daily Links and Deals: Why Audio Is Better Than Print

daily_links_1Today, a look at why audio is better than print. Also, news on Google Fiber high speed wireless tests, calls for Congress to change the laws about municipal broadband, library roles in providing services for the homeless, and how Facebook may be the one to tip the scales in the ad blocker war. In deals, a Dyson cordless vacuum and savings on a selection of Nerf toys.

Daily Links for Thursday, August 11, 2016:

Google Fiber to test home wireless internet in up to 24 US areas (Engadget) High speed wireless is being tested, but you won’t have access to it yet.

Congress Should Support Community Broadband Networks, Advocates Say (Motherboard) While the FCC mulls what to after yesterday’s loss for municipal broadband rights is triggering calls for lawmakers to step in.

Why Audio Is Better Than Print (Digital Book World) We talk a lot about which format is better, ebooks or print. Here’s an opinion piece on audio versus print.

Public libraries are serving the homeless more than just books (Southern California Public Radio) The homeless bring special needs to the library that regular users don’t have.

How Facebook Could Change Ad Blocking (Plagiarism Today) Facebook’s tech expertise and sheer size may mean it is the only player that can force a change in the ad blocking battle.

Deals of the Day:

Amazon’s selection of Kindle Daily Deals includes books in the John Russell series by David Downing.

In Today’s Deals, a refurbished Dyson V6 Slim Cordless Vacuum and up to 50% off select NERF toys.

Also today, save $25 on the Kindle Voyage Essentials Bundle. Amazon also has the Fire HD 6 (my favorite Fire tablet) for $69.99. The Fire HD 10 Tablet on sale for $50 off.

The Barnes and Noble Nook Daily Find is The Last Summer of the Camperdowns: A Novel by Elizabeth Kelly. The Romance Daily Find is Taking Heart by T. J. Kline.

Kobo’s Daily Deal is True Believer by Nicholas Sparks. The Extra Daily Deal is DAKAR: The Savoi Affair by Lavina Giamusso.

iTunes’ Weekly Bestsellers Under $4 includes The Young Elites by Marie Lu.

Google Books has a selection of Topsellers Under $10.

(A note on Daily Deals: All prices current at the time of posting and subject to change. Most items marked Daily Deals are good for only the day posted.

Many large promotions have discount pricing that is set by the publisher. This usually means that titles can be found at a discount price across most platforms (with iTunes sometimes being the exception). If you have a favorite retailer you like to patronize, check the title on that website. There is a good chance that they will be matching the sale price.)


Daily Links are interesting links I discover as I go about my online day. The frequency and number of links posted depend upon the daily news. I also post other, different links of interest on Twitter, Facebook, and on the Google Plus eBook Evangelist Page.

Daily Links and Deals: Which cruise ship library is right for you?

daily_links_1Today. a look at the library situation on cruise ships. Is the size of the library a factor for you when choosing a cruise line? Also, a look at whether your DSLR is obsolete, a online troll gets his comeuppance, and a geeky copyright notice. In deals,

Daily Links for Thursday, June 9, 2016:

Is My DSLR an Obsolete Dinosaur or an Irreplaceable Friend? (Gear Diary) Is it time to call it quits on the common camera?

Digitized Images by Wim Swaan Available as Open Content (The Iris) Wim Swaan is a photographer and architect,who contributed amazing content books on the art and architecture of cultures around the world.  Here’s 860 of them, for free for any use.

PayPal won’t refund a Twitch troll’s $50,000 in donations (Engadget) This story resonates on so many digital levels. As we spend more and more of our lives online digitally, behavior and consequences matter.

This book’s copyright notice has a nerdy surprise for readers who pay attention (Quartz) Always read the fine print…. Who knew there were Easter eggs.

Which cruise ship library is right for you? (Washington Post) Want to leave the e-reader at home?  Choose your cruise line by their library size.

Deals of the Day:

Amazon’s selection of Kindle Daily Deals includes The Murder Code by Steve Mosby for $1.99.

In Today’s Deals, an Easy VHS to DVD 3 Plus adapter. Also, SanDisk MicroSD cards. And, the Fire HD 10 tablet is still $50 off. The 16GB version is only $179.99. The tablet is also available in both 32GB and 64GB models.

The Barnes and Noble Nook Daily Find is  The Devil’s Library by Tom Pugh for 99 cents.The Romance Daily Find is Rock Me Two Times by Dawn Ryder for 99 cents.

Kobo’s Daily Deal is Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell for $1.99. The Extra Daily Deal is The Last Season, The Story of a Marriage by Marian D. Schwartz for $1.99.

iTunes’ Weekly Bestsellers Under $4 includes What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20 by Tina Seelig for $1.99.

(A note on Daily Deals: All prices current at the time of posting and subject to change. Most items marked Daily Deals are good for only the day posted.

Many large promotions have discount pricing that is set by the publisher. This usually means that titles can be found at a discount price across most platforms (with iTunes sometimes being the exception). If you have a favorite retailer you like to patronize, check the title on that website. There is a good chance that they will be matching the sale price.)


Daily Links are interesting links I discover as I go about my online day. The frequency and number of links posted depend upon the daily news. I also post other, different links of interest on Twitter, Facebook, and on the Google Plus eBook Evangelist Page.

Daily Links and Deals: E Ink brings rich color to ePaper, but not to e-readers

daily_links_1Today, finally a color e-ink display, but no e-reader yet. Also,  a look at how Hollywood influences library purchases in Australia, a new ComiXology subscription service, the discontinuation of the Nexus Player, and new standards for captions and subtitles. In deals, 60% off some great luggage sets and $20 off Battleborn for the PS4.

Daily Links for Wednesday, May 25, 2016:

Twitter introduces 4 big changes that will make tweets much easier to send and read (PC World) Names and pictures won’t eat into your limit anymore! And a few other good things will be coming soon. Of course, not everyone is happy about these changes.

Google pulls the plug on the Nexus Player (Liliputing) So long, Nexus Player. You’ve been discontinued.

E Ink brings rich color to ePaper, but not to e-readers (Techcrunch) We are getting closer to that color e-reader everyone wants, but we;re not anywhere close to a color e-reader yet!

Comixology launches new digital comic subscription service (Entertainment Weekly) I am in the midst of testing ComiXolgy now. I am testing the app, so there’s more to come on this story. There are a lot of complaints about the app for the Kindle Fire tablets…

Accessibility Standards: World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Expands Work on Captions and Subtitles for More Accessible Video Content (Infodocket) New global guidelines so that the caption and subtitle experience is more consistent world-wide.

New Email Alerts and RSS Feeds on Congress.gov (In Custodia Legis) If you track different legislation, this is a great new tool! This is replacing Thomas and will be a LOT easier.

Hollywood films drive Australian library book tastes (SMH) Libraries have to concentrate on the titles that readers ask for. In Australia, books buoyed by film adaptations seem to be getting the lion’s share of the interest.

Deals of the Day:

Amazon’s selection of Kindle Daily Deals includes The Starbucks Experience: 5 Principles for Turning Ordinary Into Extraordinary by Joseph Michelli for $1.99.

In Today’s Deals, save up to 60% off luggage & accessories. Also, you can save $20 on Battleborn for the PS4.

The Barnes and Noble Nook Daily Find is The Shadow Revolution: Crown & Key by Clay Griffith, Susan Griffith for $1.99. The Romance Daily Find is Mr. Darcy Forever by Victoria Connelly for $2.99.

Kobo’s Daily Deal is Infinity: Chronicles of Nick by Sherrilyn Kenyon for $1.99. The Extra Daily Deal is Damaged by H.M. Ward for 99 cents.

iTunes’ Weekly Bestsellers Under $4 includes Do Fish Drink Water? Puzzling and Improbable Questions and Answers by Bill McLain for 99 cents.

(A note on Daily Deals: All prices current at the time of posting and subject to change. Most items marked Daily Deals are good for only the day posted.

Many large promotions have discount pricing that is set by the publisher. This usually means that titles can be found at a discount price across most platforms (with iTunes sometimes being the exception). If you have a favorite retailer you like to patronize, check the title on that website. There is a good chance that they will be matching the sale price.)


Daily Links are interesting links I discover as I go about my online day. The frequency and number of links posted depend upon the daily news. I also post other, different links of interest on Twitter, Facebook, and on the Google Plus eBook Evangelist Page.

Daily Links and Deals: Book publishing is a resilient business

daily_links_1Today, stories about book publishing, URL shorteners, the AmazonCrossing imprint and works in traslation, Libraries in the digital age and more. In deals, there’s a refurbished Samsung Galaxy S5, WiFi smart plugs, continued deals on Fire tablets and a payment plan for the Kindle Oasis.

Daily Links for Friday, April 15, 2016:

Guess what? URL shorteners short-circuit cloud security (Ars Technica)  Oh, dear. Since we *all* use shorteners, this can be a big privacy problem.

At London Book Fair: AmazonCrossing in Translation Expansion (Publishing Perspectives) Amazon Crossing is one of my favorite imprint. Quality works in translation are hard to find.

At National Library Week, A Look At How Libraries Transform in the Digital Age (MediaShift) It i time to make sure the public knows that libraries are still relevant to our lives.

London Just Reopened the Entrance to This Underwater Tunnel for the First Time in 147 Years (Gizmodo) This is just really cool. Plus, there’s a museum.

Canadian police have had master key to BlackBerry’s encryption since 2010 (The Verge) There are so many unanswered question here about what was supposed to be a more secure device….

Book publishing is a resilient business: Kobo CEO (CNBC) Michael Tamblyn talks about what Kobo has learned about publishing and says that e-readers are thriving.

Deals of the Day:

Amazon’s selection of Kindle Daily Deals includes World of Warcraft: The Shattering: Prelude to Cataclysm by Christie Golden for $1.99 and Boy by Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake for $2.99.

In Today’s Deals, there’s a Samsung Galaxy S5 16GB Unlocked GSM Cellphone (Certified Refurbished), a TP-LINK Wi-Fi Smart Plug (HS100) that allows you to turn on and off your electronics from anywhere and a deal on  TCP LED A19 – 60 Watt Equivalent Daylight (5000K) Light Bulb – 6 Pack.

Amazon is still offering savings on the Fire HD 6pre-owned Fire tablets and savings of $15 on a Fire Essentials Bundle. I am also still seeing the option for 5 payments of $58 for the Kindle Oasis pre-order.

The Barnes and Noble Nook Daily Find is  Vernon Downs by Jaime Clarke for $1.99. The Romance Daily Find is The Match of the Century: Marrying the Duke by Cathy Maxwell for $1.99.

Kobo’s Daily Deal is Bone Dust White – Macy Greeley Mysteries (Book #1) by Karin Salvalaggio for $2.99.

Still available until April 18, select Romantic Times winners & nominees are on sale for under $3 at the Kobo store.

iTunes’ Weekly Bestsellers Under $4 includes Dark Invasion –  1915: Germany’s Secret War and the Hunt for the First Terrorist Cell in America by Howard Blum for $1.99.

Google Books promotions include Limited-Time DealsCrushworthy Reads (love stories on sale) and the Scorching Hot Sale (romances under $3).

(A note on Daily Deals: All prices current at the time of posting and subject to change. Most items marked Daily Deals are good for only the day posted.

Many large promotions have discount pricing that is set by the publisher. This usually means that titles can be found at a discount price across most platforms (with iTunes sometimes being the exception). If you have a favorite retailer you like to patronize, check the title on that website. There is a good chance that they will be matching the sale price.)


Daily Links are interesting links I discover as I go about my online day. The frequency and number of links posted depend upon the daily news. I also post other, different links of interest on Twitter, Facebook, and on the Google Plus eBook Evangelist Page.