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ENGL1010, McBride

This guide covers everything discussed in your library session.

Palaces for the people?

Remember this image from the very first page of this guide?

Like all images and quotables we find online, there's more to it than meets the eye. We can take three lessons from this.

Lesson 1.

That phrase libraries "are palaces for the people" is attributed to Andrew Carnegie, an incredibly generous philanthropist who believed that education and access to information should be free for everyone (we'll come back to that in lesson 2). Google it and you'll find it too, people attributing the quote to Carnegie all over the place. But in all those places, just like in this image, you'll never find a citation of the thing where Carnegie actually said those words.

That's a problem. If we can't return to the original source, the page our audio recording where we see or hear Carnegie speaking those words, how do we know without a doubt that these are really his words and not historical embellishment?

Confirmation isn't exactly Google-able. In this case, you have to do the work. Search our library collections for biographies of Andrew Carnegie and scan their table of contents and indexes to pinpoint where in the biography you might catch discussion of this phrase. You can also look for collected letters, speeches, and contemporaneous newspaper articles.

Lesson 2.

For Andrew Carnegie, libraries might have been palaces, but they certainly weren't necessarily for everyone. Specifically, they were for "working boys," i.e. kids whom today's labor laws finally prevent working as well as young adult men. White women quickly gained entry and a handful of separate libraries were built specifically to serve Black/African American communities.

The University of Southern Mississippi has put together a lovely introductory overview of the first segregated Carnegie-funded libraries. You'll see New Orleans representing with the Dryades Branch Library.

Additionally, before he was a philanthropist, Carnegie was a capitalist, making money through the labor of low income citizens working in often difficult and dangerous conditions. Understanding how the words we choose to elevate and the contexts we place them in impact the historical narrative we weave is critically important. It's just as important to be aware of the silences and exonerations in information we receive as audience members, too.

The Most Important Lesson

Make Tulane University Libraries your palace.

This is your place to learn, to discover, to develop, to create, and build connections with friends and colleagues that you can grow and learn with.

Turn Carnegie's original intention on it's head and have fun while doing it. Here's my favorite podcast where they talk about doing just that with libraries built by Nairobians for white colonizers in the heart of Nairobi, Kenya.


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