LIKE many other cities, Glasgow benefitted from the largesse of Andrew Carnegie.

The Dunfermline-born industrialist helped build more than 2500 libraries across the world, including fourteen in the city.

In 1901 Carnegie wrote to Lord Provost Samuel Chisholm, explaining how his family left the Broomielaw for New York half a century before and pledging the sum of £100,000 towards the city’s libraries.

Glasgow Times: Anderston Library Pic: Glasgow City Archives

“Glasgow has done so much in municipal affairs to educate other cities and to help herself,” added Carnegie, “that it is a privilege to help her.”

Glasgow’s library scheme was actually devised before Carnegie’s gift. In 1898, the Town Council agreed to apply to parliament for a special act which would enable it to establish free public libraries across the city. The act was passed the following year and the City Librarian prepared a report recommending the creation of eight libraries and five smaller reading rooms.

Carnegie’s donation enabled the city to build more, better-equipped libraries. When the plan was revised in the years after 1901, then Lord Provost William Bilsland stressed Carnegie may not have come to Glasgow’s aid had the city not taken the first step by itself: “That philanthropic gentleman preferred, like Providence, to help those who help themselves.”

Glasgow Times: Andrew Carnegie Pic: Glasgow City Archives

Kingston was the first “Carnegie library” in the city in 1904, followed by Anderston later that year. Woodside, Maryhill and Dennistoun opened in 1905; Govanhill, Springburn, Bridgeton, Parkhead and Hutchesontown in 1906 and Pollokshields and Townhead in 1907. Carnegie then pledged an additional £15,000 to meet the cost of Possilpark and Langside libraries, which opened in 1913 and 1915 respectively. Having also allocated £5000 for the construction of Kinning Park Library in 1904 (before it was incorporated into the city), this meant Carnegie’s overall donation to Glasgow’s library network totalled £120,000.

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Other benefactors included Walter MacFarlane & Co, which gifted the site for Possilpark Library, and Isabella Elder, who donated £27,000 to the Burgh of Govan for the library which bears her name.

Carnegie’s late-career philanthropy jarred somewhat with the unscrupulous way he accumulated his wealth. He was known for an unsentimental attitude towards labour, supressing wages and the unions. After his reinvention as a philanthropist, he set about redistributing his wealth under the principles of “scientific philanthropy” which placed great importance on libraries. “A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people”, he said. “It is a never failing spring in the desert.”

That spring is still flowing more than a century after his death.