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Andrew Carnegie and British Libraries

18th January 2022

Harrogate Library

Andrew Carnegie, A generous scot. A tale of two palaces. : Jim Clark. 18 Jan 2022

A capacity audience of 50 members attended Harrogate Library on 18th January for our first talk of 2022. Postponed from 2 years ago, Cllr Jim Clarke spoke to us about Andrew Carnegie and the Libraries he endowed, especially Harrogate Library.

Born in Dunfermline, Scotland, Carnegie emigrated at 12 to USA with no real formal education but he had, as a child, been allowed use the home library of another Dunfermline resident and this made him realise the value of public access to libraries.

He became one of the richest men in the world, and set about (amongst other philanthropic work) giving money to towns world wide ,but mostly in the UK and the U.S., for the building of libraries. Over 2,000 were built, 660 of those in the UK and Ireland..

The first was built in his home town of Dunfermline. By 1906 he had paid for the Harrogate Library, and along with Skipton library, these are the only Carnegie libraries in North Yorkshire, though Keighley Library was the first in England.

Carnegie had strict rules as requirement for library. The need had to be demonstrated and town had to provide the site. The Council had to pay staff and maintain the buildings with public funds used to run it. Access to the library had to be free.

Harrogate Library has at times been under threat, and there were proposals by North Yorkshire County Council in 2004 to turn it into a “Discovery Centre”. Fortunately, these plans were opposed, including by Cllr Clark, and then dropped, instead money was invested in a major modernisation of the Library.

As originally conceived by the town fathers the current Library building was to form part of a much larger building (described as a “Municipal Palace” in the plans) that would have included a Town Hall. This was planned to be built in Princes Square, but we only have the hint of its grandeur in the fine façade of the Library.