UNION — A walk around the downtown Union neighborhood will take you past a number of businesses, churches, institutions, and historic landmarks including the Union County Carnegie Library.
In “A History of the American People,” Paul Johnson writes that “In 1919 the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace published A Manual of the Public Benefactions of Andrew Carnegie, which showed that $350,695,653.40 had been spent on a huge array of projects. They included the construction of 2,811 free public libraries …”
One of those free public libraries is the library at 300 E. South St., Union which bears Carnegie’s name.
In “Union Carnegie Library History,” Jennie Holton Fant describes Carnegie as “a self-made immigrant,” who “succeeded in becoming the richest man in the world, with little education. He believed great wealth begets an obligation to provide for those of lesser fortune and he spent his money making books and information the shared property of all people, rich or poor. His free libraries were built to be a progressive hub of civic and cultural life for all citizens of a community. Fourteen towns in South Carolina benefitted from the millionaire industrialist’s generosity between 1903 and 1920. He gave South Carolina $124,700 for thirteen public libraries to be built, and aid to one private library — the equivalent of over a million dollars today.”
Fant begins her history of the library with the following quote from Carnegie about the true source of real of wealth:
“I have known millionaires starving for lack of nutriment which alone can sustain all that is human in man, and I know workmen, and many so-called poor men, who revel in luxuries beyond the power of those millionairs to reach. It is the mind that makes the body rich.”
Fant writes that the Union County Carnegie Library “bears the distinction of having been the first Carnegie library built in South Carolina. Funded in 1903 according to what became known as the ‘Carnegie formula,’ the millionaire required that communities receiving his grants contribute ten percent of his original donation amount every year thereafter, to provide for maintenance and operate the library as a public institution. Additionally, the community was asked to acquire a site for construction and to furnish all books and materials. Considered a brilliant business plan, this way Carnegie felt he was guaranteeing that a town’s investment was greater than his own, and that the libraries would be provided for in the future. For the City of Union to commit, a state law had to be enacted requiring local taxpayers to vote on acceptance of the gift — and acceptance of its terms.”
Today, more than 100 years after Carnegie donated the funds that built the Union County Carnegie Library, that library continues to serve as the “progressive hub of civic and cultural life” for all the residents of Union County who will take advantages of the services and resources it offers.
It continues to perform the mission Carnegie devoted part of his great fortune to of making sure books and other sources of information are indeed the “shared property” of all Union County residents regardless of their financial status.
Many of those residents are indeed making use of the shared property provided by this hub as shown by these highlights from fiscal 2014-2015:
• 33,347 items were checked out including books, audio books, and DVDs.
• 15,654 computer uses
• The library issued a total of 633 new library cards enabling those who obtained them to not only check out books, audio books, and DVDs but also the library’s computers.
• The library joined the Jasmine Digital Library Consortium, enabling it to make available over 15,000 e-books and over 1,500 e-audiobooks to the people of Union County.
• The library also replaced out-of-date public computers with brand new computers and entered a lease agreement to ensure continued access to up-to-date computer technology.
Were he alive today, Carnegie would no doubt be surprised at the existence of computers and the Internet, but he would also heartily embrace them and approve of the library’s efforts to keep its technology up-to-date so as to provide the people of Union County with greater access to the Internet.
As Paul Johnson writes in “A History of the American People,” Carnegie’s “unhappy father, sacked as a hand-loom weaver to make way for power-looms, taught him the importance new technology.”
With this in mind, the Union County Carnegie Library is indeed living up to the vision of the man for whom it is named — and whose portrait hangs on its wall — and embracing as he did in his time, the reality of ever-changing, ever-improving technology as the key to fulfilling its mission. The library is and will no doubt continue to be a great servant of and a great resource for the people of Union County who take advantage of the services and resources it has to offer.
For more information about the Union County Carnegie Library and the services it offers call 864-427-7140 or visit its website at www.unionlibrary.org.
The library is open Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday from 9 a.m.-7 p.m., Wednesday and Friday from 9 a.m.-6 p.m., and Saturday from 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Charles Warner can be reached at 864-762-4090 or [email protected]