It's difficult to envision any individual becoming a book collector without first having had considerable exposure to printed books.
For a fortunate few, this exposure begins at home. For others, printed books are first encountered at school. For yet others, this seminal encounter first takes place in a public library.
And thereby hangs a tale.
From 1888 to 1929, some 1700 public libraries were built in the United States using funds contributed by Scottish-American steel magnate Andrew Carnegie:
The son of a handloom weaver, Carnegie began his working life in a cotton mill at age 13. A half-century and several increasingly responsible jobs later (not least of which was creation of the Carnegie Steel Company), Carnegie was "the world's richest man," from which pinnacle he devoted the rest of his life to large-scale philanthropic projects. In addition to funding construction of some 3000 or so libraries worldwide, Carnegie funded the establishment and/or construction of Carnegie Hall, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Carnegie Institution of Washington (now known as the Carnegie Institution for Science), the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh ... well, you get the idea: a list of his philanthropies is quite extraordinary.
In the United States, most Carnegie libraries remain standing to this day, and well over half of them still serve the purpose for which they originally were constructed:
As a number of recent books explain, these libraries were all constructed to a formula, a formula which required (among other things) that communities seeking to build such libraries provide the land on which the libraries would be sited:
A number of communities refused Carnegie's generosity, although -- as Robert Martin pointed out in the 1993 βφμ chapbook Carnegie Denied: Communities Rejecting Carnegie Library Construction Grants -- such refusals were rarely for the reasons most folks' suspect (e.g., that these communities didn't want to take "tainted" money from a robber baron).
In fact, the Carnegie formula required that communities annually set aside a sum equal to 10% of a Carnegie library's original construction cost in order to fund the library's continuing operations. Because a number of communities faced legal or financial restrictions that prevented them from taxing themselves to support a library, they refused Carnegie's offer. In other cases, communities simply did not see a need for a library, regardless of how construction might be funded.
In addition to public libraries, Carnegie funded some 800 additional libraries (mostly academic libraries) in the United States, as well as another 1000 or so libraries in countries as far flung as Great Britain and Fiji. (The very first Carnegie library was built in 1883 in the town where Carnegie was born, Dunfermline, Scotland.)
Carnegie library interior, early 20th century (via California Digital Library)
Who can say how many book collectors, over the decades since Carnegie's institution of these public library construction grants, started collecting books because of an encounter with printed books at a Carnegie library? How many book collectors have yet to begin collecting due to such an encounter?
Yet another reason to support your local library....