Putting It All Together
Carnegie libraries illustrate many important aspects of turn-of-the-century America. The money to build them came from a man whose beliefs mixed aggressive capitalism with a commitment to public philanthropy. Carnegie’s gifts were built on efforts already begun by others. These library supporters had a variety of motives, including a belief in learning and an attempt to shape society along the lines they preferred. The following activities should help students clarify their thinking about these subjects.
Activity 1: Additional Research on Carnegie
Divide students into groups of four or five. One student should read Carnegie’s essays on the responsibility of rich men, then research his homes and other possessions. Another student should learn about the conditions in his factories, while the rest of the group learns about Carnegie’s other charities. The group should reassemble and decide collectively whether he lived up to his words. Have each group give their report to the entire class and then follow with a class discussion.
Activity 2: Famous Philanthropists
Have students role play. Some of the students should assume the identity of one of the great American philanthropists of the period--Rockefeller, Mellon, Vanderbilt, Morgan, etc.--and then research their lives. Other students should be journalists who also will research the lives of these men, so they can ask them about their gifts and about how they made their money. Have a public forum or press conference in which each of the famous figures tries to show why he, not Carnegie, was America’s greatest philanthropist.
Activity 3: Spending a Fortune
Tell the students they have each come into a fortune of $100 million. Have them write an essay in which they describe how much of the money they would keep for themselves, how much they would give to their families, and how much they would give to charity. Once they decide how philanthropic they will be, have them explain which groups they would give their money to, and why. Have the class discuss their choices.
Activity 4: Libraries in the Local Community
Have students research the history of their local library. Did the community receive a gift from Carnegie or some other philanthropist? What existed before the first official library? How does (did) that building compare to the designs in the plans and photographs in this lesson? How is the public library supported today? Have students write a report, create a time line, or design an exhibit that shows the history of their community’s library.