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Andrew Carnegie Libraries, Liverpool

Andrew Carnegie Libraries, Liverpool is presented by Pauline Scotland from Liverpool Record Office and forms part of the Liverpool Through the Archives series, produced for the Connecting Our Communities project…


Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) was a self-made Scottish-American industrialist and philanthropist. He came from a poor background and yet at the end of the nineteenth century became one of the richest men in American history. He gave away $350m (around $65bn in 2019 dollars). A good deal of that money was spent building libraries around the world, including in Liverpool. Below are some examples of our city’s Carnegie Libraries.


West Derby / Lister Drive Library


Early 20thcentury, view of West Derby Library, showing the entrance.

Early 20thcentury view of West Derby Library, showing the entrance.


The Grade II listed building opened in 1905. The library has brick walls with stone dressings, and a slate roof. There is a large skylight and even a tower above the main entrance. The library closed in 2006 after structural problems were found. Community based charity Lister Steps began construction work in 2019 to restore and repurpose the building.

Catalogue Reference: 352 PSP68/3/61/2


View of West Derby Library, showing a commemorative tablet in 1905.

View of West Derby Library, showing a commemorative tablet in 1905.


The tablet announces that “This library was erected by the munificence of Andrew Carnegie Esq”There was even a bust of Carnegie on a pedestal in the entrance.

Catalogue Reference: 352 PSP/68/3/61/1


View of West Derby Library, showing a library story hour from about 1935.

View of West Derby Library, showing a library story hour from about 1935.


Lots of keen faces.

Catalogue Reference: 352 PSP 68/3/61/7


Sefton Park Library


View of Sefton Park Library showing the front of the building from about 1911.

View of Sefton Park Library showing the front of the building from about 1911.


Sefton Park Library was opened in 1911. The city surveyor, Thomas Shelmerdine, designed the building in a Tudor Revival style. The library had an open access loan collection and an all-female staff. Some of the interior details still remain including the simple art nouveau railing around the gallery. A flat roofed extension was built in the 1960s which houses the children’s library and provides disabled access. The Library was awarded GradeIIlisting in 2012.

Catalogue Reference: 352 PSP68/3/45/5


View of Sefton Park Library, the opening by Andrew Carnegie in August 1911

View of Sefton Park Library, the opening by Andrew Carnegie in August 1911.


Sefton Park Library was opened by Andrew Carnegie himself. The building originally cost £5,000 to build.

Catalogue Reference: 352 PSP68/3/45/4


View of Sefton Park Library damaged by enemy action in September 1940

View of Sefton Park Library damaged by enemy action in September 1940.


Even enemy action did not keep readers away from libraries during world war two.

Catalogue Reference: 352 PSP68/3/46/3


View of Sefton Park Library damaged by enemy action in September 1940-p2

View of Sefton Park Library showing enemy action damage in September 1940.


Catalogue Reference: 353 PSP68/3/46/6


Kensington Library


View of Kensington Library

View of Kensington Library.


Like Sefton Park Library, the architect of Kensington Library was Thomas Shelmerdine. It was built in 1889/90 and was enlarged in 1897. It is a Grade IIlisted building.

There is a quote by Francis Bacon on the lintel above the entrance of Kensington Library:

“Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man and writing an exact man”

Francis Bacon was an English philosopher and statesman. He was a patron of libraries and even developed a system of cataloguing books by initially dividing them into three categories, history, poetry and philosophy. He was elected as an MP for Liverpool in 1588.

Catalogue Reference: 353 PSP68/3/26/3


View of Kensington Library showing children waiting at the library counter in April 1917

View of Kensington Library showing children waiting at the library counter in April 1917.


Note the cages on the book shelves. Modern libraries would be happy to see so many children at the library counter.

Catalogue Reference: 352 PSP68/3/26/2


View of Kensington Library showing the reading room in January 1917. It’s interesting to notice the fashion of the day, with nearly all the gentlemen wearing hats.

View of Kensington Library showing the reading room in January 1917.


It’s interesting to notice the fashion of the day, with nearly all the gentlemen wearing hats.

Catalogue Reference: 352 PSP68/3/26/4


Andrew Carnegie was considered a nineteenth century robber baron but he was also one of the most important philanthropists of the era. He believed that “a man who dies rich dies disgraced”. Some of our Carnegie Library buildings, like Lister Drive Library, are now being repurposed. Others like, Sefton Park Library, are still thriving libraries, serving the local community. Liverpool residents have certainly benefited from Carnegie’s generosity.