Great Reading En Route to America's Rural and Small Libraries

Carnegie Corporation of New York, in recognition of the great reach and service of the nation’s rural and small libraries, has awarded a $1 million grant to the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Endowment will administer a competition to select approximately 800 small and rural libraries across the country that will receive the most recent fifty-volume collection of Library of America great books series. 

“Last year, on the 100th Anniversary of our founder Andrew Carnegie’s gift to the City of New York which began his library grantmaking, the Corporation chose to recognize urban libraries and their contribution to the new populations they serve,” said Vartan Gregorian, president of Carnegie Corporation of New York. “This year we are working with the National Endowment for the Humanities to enrich the collections of rural and small libraries in order to offer the loyal readers in their communities across the country a rich and varied reading experience. In an era of government cutbacks, public libraries are hard pressed to purchase different kinds of print and non print materials that the public demands and we believe this unique collection will fill a vacuum for those without them.”

The collections, compiled and distributed by staff members at the Library of America, feature works by American authors as varied as Mark Twain, Herman Melville, James Baldwin, Abraham Lincoln, and Zora Neale Hurston. The fifty-volume set of works are each between 900 and 1,600 pages in length and feature not only novelists, but the works of historians, essayists, journalists, philosophers and statesmen. Each book in the collection will bear a bookplate that recognizes Carnegie Corporation of New York’s gift. 

“This core-collections gift follows up on last year’s one-time commemorative grant to urban libraries and reflects the spirit of partnership of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Library of America and the American Library Association. Many advocates of small and rural institutions came to the Corporation after our commemorative grant and this award recognizes both the needs expressed and the support offered,” said Gregorian.

“We are proud to be the recipient of the Carnegie grant because it recognizes our mission to bring the humanities to all Americans,” National Endowment for the Humanities Chairman William R. Ferris said. “We’re especially excited about the special educational programs we’re developing for this initiative, and we welcome other partners like Carnegie Corporation of New York who can help us make the humanities more accessible nationwide. ” NEH is overseeing the project and selecting the recipient libraries through its peer review process.

Corporation funds will underwrite the costs of making the sets available to public libraries as well as provide related training to library staff. The funds will also help develop special programs to stimulate public interest in the volumes, including readings from the texts by celebrities and writers. Each participating public library will pay a required match of $250 to receive the collection.

This project expands an earlier subsidized book-purchasing initiative managed by Library of America that selected 2,900 rural libraries to receive the first 60 volumes. This grant to approximately 800 libraries will include the latest fifty volumes that were published between 1992 and 1999. Rural libraries that received the first collection will be eligible for this new series, as will small and some suburban libraries. The American Library Association estimates that in 1998 more than 136 million people used libraries across the United States. In 1996, the last year for which figures are available, over 1.5 billion items were circulated from America’s public libraries.