Andrew Carnegie and the libraries of Wales

Free and Public: Andrew Carnegie and the Libraries of Wales
By Ralph A. Griffiths, Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2021, pp. xiv + 158, h/b, £11.99, ISBN 978 17868 37745

This is a short history of the Carnegie Libraries in Wales. The first two chapters, on public libraries and on Andrew Carnegie, set the scene and include a catalogue and a map of the Carnegie Libraries in Wales. Chapter 3 documents and discusses Carnegie’s doctrines on philanthropy including the inspiring declaration that ‘The man who dies … rich dies disgraced’ (12). Briefly discussed also are the objections to his philanthropy from those aware of his actions in the 1892 Homestead Strike and the equally inspiring words uttered in 1914 by Alderman Nathan Griffiths of Llanelli that he ‘would not touch a single penny of the money of the man who employed mercenaries [Pinkerton’s agents] to shoot down my fellow-workers [at Homestead]’ (15). Chapter 4 turns to the early history of free, public libraries in Wales and the Public Library Acts of 1850 and later. Chapter 5, ‘Andrew Carnegie and Wales’, discusses a somewhat nebulous topic, the relations of the Scotsman who made his fortune in the USA with Wales. Chapter 6, based on the surviving correspondence of Carnegie’s secretary, James Bertram, and his beneficiaries, details Carnegie’s grant-making practices. The always interesting and sometimes striking architecture of the libraries is the main topic of chapter 7, by far the longest chapter. It includes an interesting section on the ceremonies held at the opening of the libraries: it is notable how often they included industrialists in leading roles rather than representatives of the people supposed to be the beneficiaries of Carnegie’s munificence. Chapter 8 considers proposals for libraries which failed to reach fruition including an all too brief account of opposition from the users of Miners’ Libraries and Miners’ Institutes. Chapter 9 considers the legacy of Carnegie’s philanthropy. The remaining third of the text consists of textual notes, a fourteen-page gazetteer of the libraries in Wales, and an excellent nineteen-page gallery of photographs, together with a list of sources and an index. Viewers of this website may be disappointed in the author’s evident lack of interest in labour, social or intellectual history; the book is indeed best viewed as a contribution to the history of architecture. As such it is a solid, well-researched, and well-documented book which many readers will find valuable.

Dr Quentin Outram