Research project

Philanthropy and Light: Carnegie Libraries and the Advent of Transatlantic Standards for Public Space

Philanthropy and Light: Carnegie Libraries and the Advent of Transatlantic Standards for Public Space

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, philanthropist Andrew Carnegie supported the erection of almost three thousand public buildings across Britain and America.

Seeking to gauge the extent of universal values, this book concentrates on the design and performance of a handful of early Carnegie library buildings in Britain and America, identifying their response to contemporary design theory, but also by contrast to their respective local environmental contexts. It also looks more broadly at the twentieth century legacy of shared international environmental standards for public spaces in general.


Preface; Introduction; Part 1 Professional Theories: Setting standards for public library environments; Setting standards for public light. Part 2 Contexts: Public darkness and light: the cycle of environment and philanthropy; Private darkness and light: the diurnal cycle of work and leisure. Part 3 Practice and Performance: Specifying public light; The performance of public light; Conclusion; Bibliography; Index.


“Prizeman’s examination of environmental performance as a way to analyse the social and political meaning and function of this new building typology lends new insight into the significance of Carnegie’s program and his buildings and will serve as a model for future studies of this type”

“This book was a genuine inspiration for some recent work, a history which can be read as a contemporary critique and prompt.”

Liza Fior, muf architecture/art LLP, UK

“Philanthropy and Light is an excellent piece of scholarship which offers instruction and insight to a number of disciplines of which library history is but one. This work provides much of interest to the cultural historian, the sociologist, the industrial historian and, of course, to the architect. Prizeman is to be congratulated for an excellent and distinctive addition to the corpus of literature on Carnegie and for bringing to the attention of the library world an area that is possibly not fully understood or appreciated by those working the sector.”

Peter Reid, Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen Library & Information History, Vol. 30 No. 2, May 2014, 129–42

“Oriel Prizeman’s scholarship is impressive. Research libraries will want to acquire this work. Economic Historians, Sociologists and Librarians will all profit from the novel and fruitful insights in Philanthropy and Light”

“Philanthropy and Light endeavors something no other study of turn-of-the century library architecture has attempted: to relate lighting (the topic of so many dry technological tomes of the period) to the complicated social dynamics of this important building type and to do so by examining Carnegie libraries in both the United States and England. … In the end, Prizeman challenges long-held assumptions about Carnegie libraries by arguing that their environmental performance was more significant than their function as libraries.”

Abigail A. Van Slyck, Author of Free to All: Carnegie Libraries and American Culture, 1890-1920. Dayton Professor of Art History, Associate Dean of the Faculty, Connecticut College, USA

“Philanthropy and Light combines architectural, social and cultural history and the analytical tools of building science to offer unique insights into the part played by Carnegie’s philanthropy in bringing enlightenment and significant works of architecture to the urban populations of Britain and America.”

Dean Hawkes, Darwin College, University of Cambridge, UK

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