To mark World Book Day 2016, rather than focusing on the many, many (many, many) writers who have lived in or had associations with Edinburgh over the centuries, I'm profiling the Edinburgh Central Library instead.
The library opened in 1890, and was the first public library in the city. It was founded as part of the philanthropic legacy of Andrew Carnegie, at one time the richest man in America. Carnegie had been born a few miles away from Edinburgh in Dunfermline, and among the many philanthropic projects he established to make good with his fortune was the establishment of 3,000 libraries around the world. Carnegie understood the importance of knowledge and learning, encapsulated by the motto above the library's entrance: 'Let there be light'.
Carnegie had originally offered £25,000 to establish the library, but a degree of opposition to the building led him to end up doubling his endowment. With £50,000 from Carnegie, Edinburgh became the last of Scotland's cities to establish a public library - something somewhat surprising, given the city's reputation as a literary homeland, and since 2004 the world's first UNESCO City of Literature!
The building's foundation stone was laid in 1887, and the building grew alongside the arches of George IV Bridge, a structure which had been instrumental in opening up the city less than fifty years previously. The library was opened in 1890, and remains an integral part of the city's social education system today.
The upper levels of the library have been renovated in recent years, but a trip downstairs in the building takes you into some of the original stairways built at the end of the nineteenth century. The decorative tiling may not be to everyone's tastes, but is at least an authentic connection with the library as it was over 100 years ago.
The building today is run by Edinburgh Council, and as such is under threat from persistent budget cuts which seek to limit the operations and services offered by the library.
Aside from the importance of libraries as a social resource, it is vital that this historic building continues to operate and not just survive but thrive. At the opening of the library building in 1890, Andrew Carnegie sent a telegram which set out his hopes and intentions for the library:
"We trust that this Library is to grow in usefulness year after year, and prove one of the most potent agencies for the good of the people for all time to come."
More than a century after it opened, Edinburgh's Central Library is still issuing around 500,000 books to the city's population every year. And, as an aforementioned UNESCO City of Literature, it is to be sincerely hoped that the work of the library (and the 27 other public libraries operated throughout the city) does indeed continue, as Carnegie wished, for all time to come.
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