I fondly remember the time spent in the Carnegie Library in my own hometown. The smell of the books, the wood floors and the feeling of the large, wooden Windsor chairs around the big tables. As a young kid, though, I found the larger-than-life busts of Lincoln and Washington a bit frightening, though. I would climb the outdoor steps, come through the double foyer doors (which were so heavy I could barely open them) and then up another rather grand set of steps with the librarian’s desk looking formidable above you. (SMILE). — Douglas
Eric Klinenberg is the author of a book called Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life. The phrase “palaces for the people” actually comes from Andrew Carnegie who was known as a titan of the Gilded Age and one of the wealthiest people in the world when he lived.
Carnegie was a ruthless capitalist, famous for strike-breaking and doing things that promoted inequality in many parts of the world, but he was also an immigrant, and was committed to the idea that the US was a country where people could get ahead in life. Carnegie wanted to help build a social institution that would facilitate that.
Over the course of his life, Carnegie helped to fund more than 2,500 libraries around the world—about 1,700 of which were in the United States. He called greatest of them “palaces for the people.” The great Carnegie libraries had high ceilings, big windows, and spacious rooms where a person could read, think, and achieve something that they felt proud of. Although it should be noted that these palaces were not always for everyone. Many of the great Carnegie libraries remained racially segregated throughout the early 20th century, and they later became battlegrounds in the civil rights movement.
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† Available from the LA Public Library