History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake. Horrendous and terrible is the history when it calls declares and honors a man with the title “The Great”. A man who was culpable for the unnecessary slaughter of the people, of the deaths of tens of thousands of his own men and of murder of his friends. The end of life of the king Alexander was alcoholic, paranoid and megalomaniac but still he was called by the history “Alexander the Great” just because he was a military genius. History is inequitable when it ignores the other most successful military commanders, business and literary geniuses who changed the world by their thoughts, actions, services and righteousness.
Andrew Carnegie was one of them. A self made steel tycoon, a business genius, a giant of finance, a steel magnate and one of the five greatest businessmen of America has ever known. The wealthiest 19th century U.S businessman who established the largest steel industry in the world. One of America’s builders as his business helped to fuel the economy and shape the nation into what it is today. He became the richest man in the world’s history; he alone manufactured more steel than all the factories in Great Britain.
He is suitable to be called ‘the great’ but not for his incomparable personal achievements, his rise from rags to riches, but for his enormous amounts of public service and his philanthropist works to charities and to promote democracy and transnational peace.
Carnegie built a fortune from the ground up but in 1901 he sold his business and dedicated his time to expanding his philanthropic work, including the establishment of Carnegie-Mellon University, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, pension funds for his former employees, Carnegie Hero Fund, The Carnegie Institution of Washington and numerous other heavy donations. He also donated £50,000 to help set up the University of Birmingham in 1899. Before his death in 1919, he had already donated $350,695,653 (approximately $4.75 billion, adjusted to 2015 figures) of his wealth. After his death, his last $300 million was given to foundations, charities, and to pensioners. He was one of the few who built America and enriched the lives of Americans. George S. Bobinski, in ‘Carnegie Libraries: their history and impact on American public library development’ has reported that 90% of the fortune of this Steel King was spent for what he termed “the improvement of mankind.”
The most impressive thing which inspired me to write this article was his role to establish public libraries for social and educational advancement. In total Carnegie funded and established some 3,000 libraries, located in 47 US states, and also in Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the West Indies, and Fiji. By 1920, he had donated some $50, 000, 000 for construction of more than 2500 library buildings. Michael H. Harris, in ‘history of libraries of the western world’ has called him the history’s greatest library benefactor. Only in America he established some 1679 libraries in 1412 communities which, later, became the catalyst for economic, social and cultural development in USA. He explained “I chose free libraries as best agencies for improving the masses of the people”. He further said “they (libraries) reach the aspiring and open to these the chief masses and swinging them round to the surer foundations upon which the national character shall rise.”
He was an avid reader; he spent his Saturdays in the private libraries (in the homes of wealthy citizens). The lessons he learnt from those libraries motivated his campaign to establish world-wide library network. He also funded educational institutions, theatres, scientific research, medical research, law research, and economic research.
The impact and value of libraries in a society is reflected in the results of the survey of public library services commissioned by the Carnegie UK Trust in 2012. The survey was carried out in five jurisdictions: England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. On the importance of public libraries, the data shows that overall more than three quarters (79%) of those polled in Ireland said that libraries were ‘very important’ or ‘essential’ for communities. Similarly, the importance of public libraries was highlighted in the survey Ireland’s Vital Signs 2013, where ‘libraries and reading’ were placed in 5th position out of 119 options regarded by the public as most important to them. Another survey by Pew Research in December, 2013 highlighted;
“Americans strongly value the role of public libraries in their communities, both for providing access to materials and resources and for promoting literacy and improving the overall quality of life. Most Americans say they have only had positive experiences at public libraries, and value a range of library resources and services. The survey found;
- “95% of Americans ages 16 and older agree that the materials and resources available at public libraries play an important role in giving everyone a chance to succeed;
- 95% say that public libraries are important because they promote literacy and a love of reading;
- 94% say that having a public library improves the quality of life in a community;
- 81% say that public libraries provide many services people would have a hard time finding elsewhere.
- Meanwhile, while most Americans feel that libraries have done a good job embracing new technology, they are split on whether public libraries are as essential as they were in the past for finding information.”
The impact of Carnegie’s breakthrough is that the libraries are now part and parcel of the American society. Americans read more than any other nation. A report published in January, 2014 revealed some 70% of parents report their child visited a public library and the report published in June 2014 shown some 90% of Americans visited library in last year. It developed American mind and enriched their nation.
Carnegie authored many books, in ‘The Gospel of Wealth’ he shared his amazing social conscience “a man who dies rich dies disgraced” and “no man becomes rich unless he enriches others.”
Libraries play major role in social development. They help to make stronger communities. Without libraries modernization cannot be attained. Chinese leadership realized it, in 1980s they established over 200,000 libraries. Till today, about 601,000 rural libraries have been built in China’s villages including 16,000 digital libraries have been built in the country’s poor, remote areas. In today’s age of information plenty, need of libraries has been greater than before but in Pakistan, situation is not encouraging. Lack of libraries is the major impediment to national progress and is the main reason behind extremism. Pakistanis have also to realize that without libraries, they have no future.
The writer is the Chairman Read Pakistan and a noted lawyer based in Islamabad. He tweets @farrukhdall