In the early 1900s, in hundreds of small towns across America, a new Carnegie Library was the most impressive, most prized structure in town. Although each building was slightly different each style was chosen by the community most tended to be simple and yet rather formal structures. Nearly all of them had steps leading to a large doorway; some also had steps inside leading to the open stacks of books. These steps were symbolic a person who entered this library was elevating himself in a conscious way.
In the open stacks, patrons could wander among the books, looking for what they wanted to read. Before Carnegie, closed stacks were the norm; you pretty much had to know the name of the book you wanted.
By 1920, some 23 Carnegie libraries had been built in Utah, which placed the state at 24th on the list. (Indiana was first with 165 libraries, followed by California at 142.)
Over the years, many of the Carnegie libraries were replaced by larger county and city libraries, and the buildings turned into museums, offices, community centers. Many were even torn down.
But some still continue to serve their communities in the ways originally envisioned. Two communities in Cache Valley Richmond and Smithfield are among those still using their Carnegie libraries.
According to Richmond city histories, in 1912 the residents of the town petitioned the City Council for a special election to determine public support for a library. A special election was held on July 1, and 95 voters were in favor of the petition, while 12 voted against it.
Five days later the City Council met to appoint a library board, and three months later, on Oct. 14, 1912, the council passed a resolution accepting an $8,000 grant from Andrew Carnegie. The library opened in 1914.
A description in a historical preservation survey describes the building as "in no particular style, but the symmetrical facade, the division of the facade by pilasters, the raised basement, the capitals of the pilasters, the wide cornice and the parapet above the cornice reflect Classical Revival influences."
That's pretty much the building you see if you visit it today.
About the only change, says current librarian Juliene Parrish, is that the downstairs originally was used as a club room, "but when we outgrew the top, we moved our books down." That floor now houses the children's library, teen fiction and nonfiction and adult fiction."
But, she says, last summer when heavy rains caused a basement flood, "we found the original horsehair padding under the carpet. It was so great, we didn't even have to replace the carpet."
The library still serves the community of Richmond. During the summer, there are special reading programs for kids where if they read books and fill in their contracts they can get a free book. In winter, there's a preschool story time.
How great is it, she asks, to have a place that kids can walk or ride their bikes to? Even a lot of the adults will walk to it.
Because the building was built so long ago, "we are not ADA compliant. So we have a delivery service. Someone can call and request a book, and we will deliver it to them."
The library is on the small side, Parrish admits, but they are part of the interlibrary loan system, so they can get get books from anywhere. "We rarely have to say something is not available."
There has been some talk of expansion, "but it turned out the city needed sewers, so we got put on hold." They do take book donations from the public, which a lot of small libraries aren't able to do. "What we can't use, we share with other libraries or box up and send to Ghana."
There are times where lots of people want to read the same book; the longest waiting list they've ever had, she says, "was for Stephenie Meyer's 'The Host,' earlier this year."
It's a place, she says, where people can come fall in love with books, where kids can curl up with a favorite story, where anyone can find out pretty much anything they want to know. "The computers are a big draw," she says, but so are the books. "Books never go out of style. We offer lifelong learning."
The library provides a real service to the community, says Parrish. "It's a hub of the community, a place where a lot can happen."
Librarian Marilyn Benavides says the same thing about the Smithfield Carnegie Library.
"We like to be a focal point for the community. This is a comfortable place, where people can feel at home," she says.
The Smithfield Carnegie Library opened in 1921. If was not the first library in the community; that was organized by the Sunday School in the LDS ward. But by the turn of the century, people began looking for more.
In 1915, a committee was appointed to investigate the possibilities, and they called for a bond election. The resulting vote was 110 to 34 in favor. A temporary reading room was set up in the 2nd Ward tithing office building in the fall of 1917, stocked with books donated by the local folks.
But there still was hope for a bigger facility, and the committee began investigating the possibilities of getting funds from the Carnegie Foundation. Eventually, they received a grant of $12,000.
According to town history, "a very prominent location was selected for the site of the new building, at Main and Center. The structural design has maintained a dignity over the years suitable for a place of learning, on a piece of ground that carried with it many cherished memories down through the years since our pioneer days."
The building is designed in the Prairie Style, says Benavides. And because it so prominently says Carnegie Library on the facade, "we get a lot of tourists that stop by just to see it."
The library also houses a collection of art by Mary Teasdale. "At one time we were the only library in the state with our own art collection. I don't know if that's still true, but we do get people who come to see that." When Scott Matheson was governor, he had to give a speech in Cache Valley, "and then he made a special trip to Smithfield, just to see our art. Mrs. Matheson sent us the nicest thank you note," says Benavides.
She, too, laments the fact that the library is too small. "When it was built, we served 2,000, and now we serve 10,000." Some people complain that there are too many old books on the shelves, she says, "but where else are you going to find some of the old classics?"
There is talk in Cache Valley of going to a countywide system, and they may eventually move to a larger building, she says. But for now, they and much of the community appreciate the heritage of the building.
One of her favorite quotes is the one etched in stone on the front of the building: "In the education of the people lies the safety of the home, the state and the nation."
Books are so important, says Benavides. "What can you do if you can't read? And yet we get so many kids that say they don't like to read. If they have an assignment to read 100 pages, they come in and want a book that is only 100 pages. Yet, they could pick up a book and go anywhere in the world."The library offers reading incentive programs for kids. Computers, CDs and DVDs have also become part of the modern library, and they are important, too, she says. "But we still get a lot of people who come in and just want a good book to read."