Introduction

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A 1917 photo of the reading room at the South Pasadena Public Library, built in 1908 with funding from Andrew Carnegie. Courtesy of the South Pasadena Public Library via California Digital Library.

By 1920—less than 150 years after Benjamin Franklin first donated what would become a town's first public library collection—there were more than 3,500 public libraries in the United States. This rapid expansion of the US public library can be traced back to another American man's donation—steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie's funding had built about half of these 3,500 public libraries, earning him the nickname, the "Patron Saint of Libraries."

Carnegie funded the building of 2,509 "Carnegie Libraries" worldwide between 1883 and 1929. Of those, 1,795 were in the United States: 1,687 public libraries and 108 academic. Others were built throughout Europe, South Africa, Barbados, Australia, and New Zealand. The last Carnegie Library grant in the US was issued in 1919.