Thursday, February 10, 2011

Carnegie Library for Sale

Poor Andrew Carnegie is rolling over in his grave. After all of his efforts to leave us with a legacy of beautiful libraries, in some cases we can't manage to keep them open or even to maintain the buildings.
I found out about this deal a little late, otherwise, that would have been my bedroom window up there on the right. About five years ago the library was sold for some ridiculous amount ($140,000?) Last time I checked, it was sitting vacant with the space available for lease. I could be living in it and throwing lavish parties. That could have been your carriage out front. Here it is back in about 1906.
And here again, several decades later.  This is not the only Carnegie library to go up for sale. It's hard to really find out the details though. I couldn't even track down the newspaper article that listed the sales price or the details of the sale.
I  know that when this library became too small and there wasn't enough parking, Broome County built a newer bigger one. Then, due to budget cuts, the remaining four branches in Binghamton were all closed. I guess it's a pattern seen elsewhere too. The downtown is no longer the shopping and business center it used to be, so the main library has difficulty serving its purpose there. When the main library is then moved to another more suburban location, it's a given that people can't walk there, and it needs a big parking lot to go with it.  It's a sad progression from small neighborhood libraries that people could walk to.

I was surprised to discover that there are people who specifically collect library postcards, as well as people who are library history buffs.  The ultimate library history buff seems to be Larry Nix, a retired librarian who hosts the Library History Buff website. Mr. Nix also mentioned in his blog in May of last year that the Carnegie Library in Duluth, Minnesota was for sale for $862,000.

I'd love to know how many of the Carnegie libraries are still used as libraries, how many are used for something else, and how many are sitting empty or have been demolished. If you're interested in libraries and library history, be sure to check out Larry's website and another good one, Retiring Guy's Digest.


  1. This post interestingly highlights a symptomatic land planning situation witnessed elsewhere in the world (Britain is a good example).

    Urban space as we knew it, is being redistributed. City centres - as the 'traditional' commercial, clerical, financial and cultural hives - are being relocated to the city outskirts.

    Alongside this, the architectural merit of those redesigned hubs is sadly given no or little priority, while the former libraries, halls, theatres etc. of our vacant city centres meet an undeserved fate.

    Some are being somewhat preserved and converted to new use, while many others will slip into dereliction (until speculators can grab it cheap, get the dismantlers in and salvage what there is to salvage to sell on, pull down the rest of the structure before building yet another apartment block or some non-descript office building that will in turn lay vacant for years before being put to use...

    It seems that powers that be are either unwilling or incapable of looking after our heritage, opting instead for a 'tabula rasa' exercise.

  2. You may not be aware but there is an on-going campaign in the UK to save our libraries from the budget cuts proposed by the government. Libraries are on the 'hit list' for some councils.

    I can't see them closing the Carnegie library in Middlesbrough though,

  3. In a town near here they have turned it into the town museum as the new modern looking library sits a block away. We had one in southern Iowa that was originally built with a clay tile roof. Sadly it is now gone, the roof that is and it is an asphalt roof now.

  4. Great post, as you routinely do, and interesting comments.
    Some libraries could host several lounges of a larger Internet cafe, for different demographics. Including real-life social networking interest groups, motion gaming areas, patron-created multimedia areas, etc.
    In a post-apocalyptic scenario, after the power grid pretty much goes down, you should see in libraries a resurgence in foot traffic; desperados-turned-cannibals might also provide hand traffic, and other body parts trafficking (don't make me go into the specifics).
    Libraries could sub-rent to many other businesses, such as Creative Interrogation Experts Inc., who could assist in counterterrorism. The screams from the library basement could be skillfully integrated into thematic late night parties upstairs...Why have Halloween only once a year?
    Yes, libraries could become a little indoor downtown watering holes, clubs and other settings for people to "congress". :)

  5. Just for the record, the new main library in Binghamton was built only a few blocks from the old one, so it wasn't banished to the burbs- sounds like the other branches, which would have been in the burbs, closed instead. That said, the new library does not have one iota of the character of the Carnegie, nor does it front the courthouse square as the old one did, so its role as a civic monument has been greatly diminished.

    I think the public library as we know it, both the building and the concept, is going to continue to suffer due to two pretty basic factors: 1) as Nathalie noted, profit almost always trumps heritage/civic good, and 2) the printed book is simply being replaced by digital media. The second factor is obviously crushing the retail book market too, as seen by the loss of many small bookstores in recent years, the recent announcement of probable bankruptcy for Borders (the #2 retail chain), and just yesterday the laying off of 7% of the staff at Powell's, the biggest independent bookseller in the US...

    So my advice is get out and support/enjoy your local library while you can!

  6. There's a Carnegie Library nearby that is used as towns museum. It's within walking distance of the town square. Unfortunately the one in my little town was torn down long ago.

  7. As a librarian myself, I have to say I just don't see the death of libraries as imminent. My library averages over 1,400 people a day through its doors (and we are not a large institution.) Just last week our circulation desk checked items out (including plenty of books) to 1,800 patrons in one day. Use of libraries themselves is booming; how the libraries are being used, however, may be changing.

    While the arrival of digital media has certainly changed many people's reading habits, it's important to realize that libraries are about much more than books. They function as community centers, sources of continuing education in the form of programs and presentations, and much more. Definitely, check out your local library and see what's happening there: you might be surprised at what you find.

    (And I would give just about anything to live in a Carnegie library...they were, and a lucky few still are, absolutely glorious buildings.)

  8. Too sad. They were going to close the neighborhood library that's just two short blocks from my home, but so much hell was raised that they backed down. The internet may have made newspapers obsolete, but we certainly still need libraries!

  9. Dorin,
    Was it the Sci-fi movie you watched last night or did the coffee shop add something extra to your coffee this morning? :)

  10. Tracy,
    You're right. A few weeks ago I was perusing the Portland Library's card catalog online and realized that the book I wanted was checked out, but I could also download a copy of it to read on my computer. I did that, but then decided I would really rather have a paper copy. I went into the library as soon as the book came in. One of the things that I noticed is that since they have fully automated checkout, the librarians are available to do other things.

    Libraries really are different than they were when I was growing up; they're better. However, as a child I was almost always within walking distance of a library. Now I have to drive.

  11. The Carnegie Library in our town is now the Labor Temple with meetings held there.

  12. Thank you for the link! I have to look up my old Carnegie library on Amsterdam Ave. and 67th Street. Sadly torn down decades ago. Beautiful limestone building, gorgeous woodpanelling throughout. Marble staircase (kids books on second floor, I think). The scent of books and wood is with me still.

  13. Good points from Tracy as a library insider, but I would argue that the primary role library is to provide access to a large repository of books and printed media- while it might be the location of a lecture, neighborhood meeting, etc, those functions can occur just as well in any empty room that has the required seating capacity. I'm sure that diversification from the traditional role of the public library into a more flexible, dynamic entity will help ensure its viability as an institution, but just hope that books aren't relegated to the the second or third tier of their purpose.

  14. I have to say my current neighborhood library here in Teaneck, NJ is quite nice. Walkable and always busy with people of all ages. Lots of semi-private desks for reading, writing, etc.

  15. I just went to one of the city library 2 days ago. But I feel upset as there are not much of new books available expecially about subject I like.

    However, I prefer to have hard cover than the ebook.

  16. Great cards and a great link too. We are closing vast numbers of libraries in this country because some idiot somewhere believes that it is more important to keep an investment banker in bonuses rather than a citizen in books.

  17. There is a beautiful Carnegie Library in very good condition for sale for only $124,500 in Kendallville, Indiana. Here is a description and the person to contact:
    "Stately brick & masonry office building with beautiful clay tile roof. Be a part of historical Kendallville by choosing this location for your office space. Close to 4000 sq ft of available space. Two floors, rent out both floors or keep one level for yourself. This property has been lovingly restored by the best. Great, Grand reception area. Wonderful library room w/built in bookcases. Much to see and appreciate.

    Anita Hess, Assoc. Broker
    Orizon Real Estate, Inc.
    125 East North Street
    Kendallville, Indiana 46755
    Mobile: 260-349-8850
    Fax: 260-347-1009 or 260-347-4852
    Office: 1-800-638-5244 ext. 12

  18. I'm a retired librarian and can understand why libraries feel the need for a bigger, more modern building to allow services to expand. Still, it is sad to see these handsome, even elegant library buildings falling on hard times.



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