Free to All ultimately brings into focus a vision of loss. The act of reading—which for much of the nineteenth century enjoyed a tradition as a rich social activity—had given way, in just a few decades, to the Carnegie mold of machine-like order. Information transfer was now reduced to cold efficiencies, where the library and the librarian functioned only to get books into the hands of readers. Van Slyck concludes with a recognition of what we traded for Carnegie’s riches:
By defining library efficiency as the quick delivery of books into the hands of individual readers, the Carnegie program supported larger cultural trends that encouraged libraries to ignore the issue of how readers used the materials that they did borrow. In contrast to nineteenth-century social libraries which were established specifically to facilitate an active sharing of ideas, the efficiency-driven public library of the twentieth century defined reading as a solitary activity. In the process, the library lost its potential to serve as a site—literally and figuratively—for public discussion and debate. 5
With a self-important sense of purpose, Carnegie hoped to benefit the common good by shaping the public institution of the library in his own image. But Carnegie’s values were not that of a librarian.
from Scott W. H. Young’s Andrew Carnegie, Librarian