Opened in 1904, the Carnegie public library in Danville, Illinois, was much praised as a civic institution, not only for the services it provided but also for its impressive architectural presence. Responding negatively to a request made in 1910 by the Danville Library Board for additional funding to enlarge the library, Andrew Carnegie’s private secretary and overseer of building applications and plans, James Bertram, was retrospectively critical of what he viewed as the space-wastefulness of the original Danville design. Using this criticism as a sounding board, as well as by drawing on ideas about library architecture debated by librarians over the previous generation, this article attempts to highlight the progressive elements of the Danville design, thus suggesting the possibility of a wider re-reading of the Carnegie library building type, including buildings designed before the more systematic scrutiny and guidance introduced by Carnegie from 1908.

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