The Motivation that Fueled the Controversy
The Carnegie library of Pittsburgh is one of the many Carnegie librarys that can be seen around the world. Carnegie’s libraries are living legacies to his charity and compassion to the community. The Carnegie library of Pittsburgh is one of the largest ones that underwent extensive remodeling to shape the building to Carnegie’s liking and to attach the Carnegie museum of natural history to the library. Due to this change it’s possible to be wondering through stacks of books and look out certain windows and be meet with dinosaurs. Carnegie’s love of dinosaurs comes from the pride he took when an expedition Carnegie funded found a nearly complete fossil skeleton of a Diplodocus that he named “Dippy”.
Even with all of these great achievements and acts of philanthropy this Steel Tycoon and at one point in history, second richest man in the world Carnegie is often associated with one of the worst labor conflicts in US history. This contradiction of insensitivity and compassion may raise a plethora of questions concerning Carnegies reasoning, values and motives that could have lead too such a harsh conflict while simultaneously putting libraries all over the world to improve life for the poor. The answer to these questions is largely found by looking at Carnegie’s younger years and the path he took to stardom.
Carnegie as a child was very poor and worked at a textile factory winding spools full of thread for the machine to use. On a tight budget Carnegie could never afford the subscription fee to use the library. Carnegie then wrote an agreement to why the library should be free to working boys that was written so well the library allowed working boys to access the library for free on Sundays. Using this newfound resource it became the foundation to Carnegie’s education that propelled him into higher class jobs and paved the road to his steel empire. Due to this Carnegie thought that libraries were the necessary answer to the problems of the poor. The ability to educate yourself on what you saw fit was the most important aspect to success in Carnegie’s eyes. So important though that is seemed like Carnegie waved away any excuse to someone’s lack of success if they had access to a library.
The conditions of the steel mills run by Carnegie and Frick were completely unacceptable by today’s standards. Death or severe injury were by no means uncommon, steel mill workers worked roughly 12 hours a day 6 days a week and were payed just enough to get by. Although Frick was also in charge it may seem intuitive that Carnegie, a man that advocated for the common people, would insist on safety in his work environment or for higher wages. Carnegie has said before though
“If I had raised your wages, you would have spent that money by buying a better cut of meat or more drink for your dinner. But what you needed, though you didn’t know it, was my libraries and concert halls. And that’s what I’m giving to you.”
Carnegie’s obsession with libraries comes from his belief that we should help those that help themselves, just as he had done. Carnegie believed that his route to success was the best route or the only route to success. By providing this opportunity it was as if Carnegie allowed himself to justify the exploitation of thousands of workers, even though many died from working such long hours in a dangerous environment.
Carnegie’s brilliance, stubbornness and unwavering belief that he always knew what was best for the people ultimately blinded him to the horrendous conditions that he created in his own work environment. Carnegie’s beliefs and mentality in combination with his substantial wealth take the form of Carnegie’s many libraries scattered across the world. A symbol of hope to some and to others a realization that this was Carnegies only form of charity and compassion towards them.
Carnegie’s libraries undoubtedly have benefited the communities they inhabit though. During the great depression Carnegie’s library were a sanctuary to those without jobs allowing them to find shelter, read, educate themselves and escape from the world for a little bit. Playwright August Wilson attributes much of his success to the ability to educate himself through Carnegie’s library when he was discriminated against at school and had nowhere else to turn too. Making Carnegie’s vision of his libraries inspiring and creating rag to riches stories similar to his own still relevant and purposeful today. Many of the libraries built with Carnegie’s money were built over a hundred years ago and today many have been converted for other usage but many still function and thrive such as the Carnegie library of Pittsburgh.
The Carnegie library of Pittsburgh is now one of the largest operational Carnegie libraries worldwide and as many people and students living in the area can attest too still creates a positive environment today. It today offers many services such as looking at older material on micro-film, an archives room housing some of Pittsburgh’s various history, genealogy services to discover one’s own lineage and much more.
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