The Carnegie Library, located in the Puerta de Tierra sector of San Juan, was one of the institutional structures built by the United States government as part of its education program on the island. Its origin dates to 1903 when the first public library was established under the new civil government. It was then known as the Island Library. The books that had been in the libraries that existed under Spanish rule prior to 1898 were transferred to this library.
During the term of Governor Arthur Yager, the island received a donation of $100,000 from U.S. philanthropist Andrew Carnegie to pay for the costs of building a library. Puerto Rican architect Ramón Carbia was in charge of the design of the structure. Construction began in 1914 on land donated by the Puerto Rico government. In 1917, the government formally accepted the donation and named the building Carnegie Library. All of the resources located in the Island Library, the first public library in Puerto Rico (1903), were transferred to the new structure.
In the first decades of the 20th century, the library had a large number of members and many people visited it daily. It was governed by a board of directors named by the governor and approved by the Senate. In 1946, development of the program of traveling libraries began, which transported books to distant schools and communities. In 1950, all of the library services were transferred to the Secretary of Education. Fifteen years later, the library closed its doors due to its deterioration. The building was restored, with some alterations, and resumed operations in 1969. During the following two decades, it closed on various occasions because of insufficient funding.
In 1989, Hurricane Hugo caused considerable damage to both the structure and its materials. Many books were ruined. As the result of the efforts of a group of citizens and professionals interested in reopening it, a restoration project was begun and extended from 1992 to 1995.
The rectangular, two-story building is neo-classical in style. The main entrance, on the south side, has a recessed portico with six huge Doric columns. The other facades are adorned with Doric pilasters of similar scale. Five large doors with arches provide access to the building. The four-gable roof is covered with glazed tiles.
The floor plan is symmetrical on both levels. The first floor has a large room that extends the length of the building. It is divided into a rear vestibule and an area of bookshelves toward the rear. On each side are reading rooms. The original architectural details have been preserved in the vestibule. The second floor is accessed by two lateral staircases that still retain the original wooden balustrades. The second level has an exhibition room and reading rooms. In addition to spaces dedicated to an information center, circulation desk, reference room and audiovisual resources, the library also has the Ramón Mellado Parsons children’s room and the Harold J. Lidin magazine and newspaper room.
Today, the Carnegie Library is administered by the Department of Education. The structure has been listed on the United States Department of the Interior’s National Register of Historic Places since 1983.
The library is open to the public Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. It also offers a varied program of activities to the community, such as forums, book presentations and art exhibitions. The Luis O’Neill de Milán Hall is available to the community for these purposes. Rooms are equipped with computers that access Internet free of charge to the public. It also lends books and videos to its members.
Adapted by the PROE Editorial Group
Adapted from Catálogo de Propiedades, Registro Nacional de Lugares Históricos, Oficina Estatal de Conservación Histórica, Oficina del Gobernador, 1995
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: January 12, 2010.
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