History of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

The people of Pittsburgh love their city. They also have an enduring relationship with their library system.
That enduring relationship is why Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh hosts more than 2.9 million visitors each year, why it is viewed as the catalyst to an improving quality of life in the region and why it is considered a key partner in the City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County and in the growth and vitality of our community.

The establishment of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh was forecast in a letter, November 25, 1881, from Andrew Carnegie to the Mayor of Pittsburgh, in which Mr. Carnegie offered to donate $250,000 for a free library, provided the City would agree to provide the land and maintain the annual funding for library operations. After additional consideration, Mr. Carnegie increased his charter investment to $1 million to build and equip a Main Library and five neighborhood branches, with the City of Pittsburgh agreeing to provide $40,000 for their ongoing support.

Founding public libraries became a personal philanthropic mission for Mr. Carnegie. To him, libraries were vital, non-luxury assets to be supported by public dollars. When finished, Mr. Carnegie established more than 2,500 libraries around the world.

The growth and use of the Library during its first decade proved that Pittsburghers would eagerly respond to the offer of books and library services. Six branches—CLP – Lawrenceville, CLP – West End, CLP – Hill District, CLP – Mt. Washington and CLP – Hazelwood, all opened between 1898 and 1900, and CLP – East Liberty, opened in 1905—served Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods, offering storytimes, reading clubs and extended services. The South Side location was opened January 30, 1908, the last of those which were financed from Mr. Carnegie’s original gift to the City.

The Library’s Homewood location, dedicated March 10, 1910, was by far the largest of the branches. Mr. Carnegie departed from his usual custom of requiring the City to provide the land for libraries by purchasing it himself. CLP – Homewood was the eighth and last of the “Carnegie branches,” and the last branch to be erected in Pittsburgh until 1964 when the City of Pittsburgh began its building program.

More than a century ago, Andrew Carnegie believed that the greatest contribution that residents of this city could make was to support a public library. When he generously provided capital funding to build the initial library buildings, he intentionally resisted the notion of endowing the Library’s ongoing operations. He believed strongly that financial support from residents was the most effective way to maintain a strong relationship between the community and its community library.

Since its inception in 1895, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh continues to build community, enable learning and provide equal access for residents of all abilities, skills and backgrounds. Through critical services such as early learning initiatives for children, out of school learning programs, job search assistance and computer and Internet access, the Library fosters lifelong learning and supports the region’s workforce, economic development and vitality. Comfortable library spaces in neighborhoods welcome people to read, to think, to learn, to share and to teach each other. Children and teens learn and grow; adults exchange ideas, acquire new skills and expand their understanding; and every person in our community has access to ideas, information and items—in person or electronically. Through the community’s investment, the Library is able to do this and much more, helping to make life better for people in our region.

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