The First Carnegie Public Library in the World

Carved stone arch reading Carnegie Public Library. Carved relief below of sun and rays with motto Let there be light.

The building before you is truly representative of Dunfermline’s reach around the world, specifically related to Andrew Carnegie. It’s the first of over 2,800 libraries gifted by Carnegie, in towns stretching from America and Australia to Canada and the Caribbean.

Carnegie’s love of books stemmed from his early childhood in Scotland and his teen years in Allegheny/Pittsburgh. While a teenager, living in Pittsburgh, USA he would borrow books from Colonel Anderson, every Saturday for free and that made an impression on his view of reading and access to books. His desire to help people get access to books stimulated his library building programme. 

Carnegie offered to build libraries on the condition that the local guild, council or government would agree to fill it with books and maintain it; 

“… an endowed institution is liable to become the prey of a clique. The public ceases to take interest in it, or, rather, never acquires interest in it. The rule has been violated which requires the recipients to help themselves. Everything has been done for the community instead of its being only helped to help itself.” 

The Gospel of Wealth, Andrew Carnegie


Rather than being charitable, it is Carnegie’s philanthropy which should be remembered. 

Dunfermline is immensely proud that his birth town was the first in which a Carnegie Public Library opened. The architect was James Campbell Walker, who also designed the City Chambers at the Kirkgate. Those with a keen eye could try spotting his ‘signature’ – a carved square stone with his initials ‘JCW’ overlapped. It’s on both buildings. 

If you take a closer look above the original front door of this library, you can also spot a favourite motto of Carnegie: “Let there be light”. 

Front door of Dunfermline’s Carnegie Public Library, unknown date
Fife Cultural Trust (Dunfermline Local Studies) on behalf of Fife Council.

Now you have found the library, this is also a stop on the Chatbots tour for Family Fantasy Safari. Hear more about by hitting play triangle at the bottom of the screen.