By Ken Ross
Some historians refer to Andrew Carnegie as a ruthless railroad tycoon and industrialist but there is no question that his role as a philanthropist has an enduring impact on the lives of Americans, including in Cherokee.
Through Carnegie's efforts, libraries were built throughout the country. A Carnegie library was completed in Cherokee in 1905, replacing a much smaller library originally established by the Cherokee Ladies Library Association.
The 100 year anniversary is being observed during National Library Week, April 11-16, with a number of activities.
"Carnegie believed that libraries should be free to the public. On all the Carnegie libraries, the word free can be seen," Mary Jo Ruppert, library director said. She noted that some libraries during the era that Carnegie libraries were being built required a subscription for use. A condition that Carnegie required for giving a grant to build a library was that the city levy for ongoing support of the library.
Having the word free somewhere on the building is not the only distinguishing feature of a Carnegie library. Ruppert said that the size and architecture of the libraries varied from community to community but all had some things in common. All had steps going up to them, Carnegie believing that the structure needed to be imposing in order to emphasize its importance to the community.
When an expansion of the library was planned (completed in 1998) it was decided that the old building should retain its historic character. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings and a requirement for being on that list and the desire of the community was that the original building should be clearly distinguishable from the original building.
Ruppert said that the addition accomplishes that while the expanded building remains attractive as a whole. She said that people are impressed by the appearance of the wall in the building that was formerly the exterior wall of the old library.
"People have a strong sense of a need for a library in this community and we have a wonderful history of supporting the library and using it," Ruppert said.
In honor of the 100th birthday celebrationnext week, on Wednesday the After School Bunch session will be open to all ages, including adults. Ruppert will be talking about Andrew Carnegie and his legacy of libraries throughout the world with special emphasis on the history of the Cherokee grant in Cherokee. The group will go on a short tour, inside and outside, and view the features that make a Carnegie building unique. After the tour, birthday cake, will be served.
On Thursday, Pat Ellerbroek from the Cherokee Area Archives, a past director of the library, will be presenting a slide show of historical pictures of Cherokee. Ruppert will also give a short summary of the importance of the Carnegie Foundation to the Cherokee Public Library's history. This will take place at 7 p.m.
On Friday, Ellerbroek will repeat the slide show at 1 p.m. It will be followed by a short tour of the building emphasizing the points that make it a Carnegie legacy. The library will also host the Chamber Coffee that morning. After the coffee, the library will be serving birthday cake all day long.
During the week the library will be giving away six library tote bags. You can put your name in the box each day that you are in the library, and one name will be drawn at closing time. These are sturdy canvas totes with an inside pocket to hold a library card.
The staff will wear special t-shirts next week with a graphic of the Cherokee Carnegie Library building on them. There will be an opportunity for anyone who is interested to order shirts.