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Thursday, August 14, 2008

The old old library

This is about Springfield's public library, Lincoln Library, and specifically, the building that was demolished to make way for the current building. Most people around here probably know that the library was initially constructed through funding provided by Andrew Carnegie. But, did you know:

[...] he attached two major conditions to his gifts. First, the local community must provide a suitable site upon which to build the library. Second, it must formally agree to provide continual funding for the library. The second stipulation solidified the paradigm of the public library supported by taxes.12

However, even those precautions were not sufficient to prevent communities from squandering the money they received through poor planning and ill-conceived grand architecture. One of the more notable examples of this problem happened in Springfield, Illinois, which received its money with great enthusiasm and fanfare. The original name for the public library in Springfield, Illinois, was to have been the Lincoln-Carnegie Memorial Library. However, Carnegie requested that the library be simply named Lincoln Library.13 The architecture of the Lincoln Library, like so many Carnegie libraries of the early period, was a chaos of columns and wasted air space, incorporating sixteen distinct architectural styles. Carnegie himself expressed regret at the waste of his money on an impractical structure. In 1911 he had his secretary, James Bertram, draw up a set of "Notes on Library Buildings" which mandated simplicity of design and the eschewal of expensive portals, columns, domes and winding stairways. With a little judicious pressure on architects, he was able to put an end to this sort of waste and impracticality in his libraries.14 (From Leviathan's Libraries; emphasis added.)

I liked that old building. But, as I have previously noted, I know practically nothing about architecture. I wonder what Andrew would think about the thing that now stands in its place.

Posted by Marie at August 14, 2008 11:20 AM


Interesting. I knew about Carnegie's two conditions but had no idea that the early buildings were way too grandiose. I assumed all the Carnegie libraries were of the simple, staid design.

Posted by: Joe at August 14, 2008 7:08 PM

You happen across those old Carnegie libraries all over the country. I was just in Conneaut, Ohio -- way out on Lake Erie and the Pennsylvania border -- and they have a rather grand old Carnegie library building there. Vacant, and up for sale.

Posted by: Dan at August 15, 2008 5:37 PM

Joe, I assumed they were all similar to the one in Springfield.

Dan, I hope whoever buys doesn't wreck it.

If you scroll down to Springfield on this page, there are a couple pictures of our old library. Despite the 16 styles of architecture, I wish they were still building libraries like that.

Posted by: at August 16, 2008 12:06 AM

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