Carnegie Library, on Shaw Quadrangle, is best known for its quiet reading room and impressive stone stairs. If you have visited more than once, you also likely know what hides behind its door.

Stately marble columns, stacks that transport a browser back in time, and a math department. That’s right, Carnegie Library on SU campus is full of surprises. Not only has its atmosphere lasted the test of time, it has long served the purposes of the most important resources of the information age: people.

Carnegie Library: Then and Now

Built in 1905 to 1907 with grant money from Andrew Carnegie Foundation. The Carnegie Library was not the first library building on campus, but has come to be the most iconic. Over the years it has hosted incredible collections, housed the original Library School, and served as a backdrop for military troop review. Carefully restored from 2010 to 2014, it now houses a quiet reading room, beautiful domed ceilings, and practical but stately furnishings.

Although this renovation focused on restoring historic aspects of the space, it has only enhanced the work of libraries on campus. According to Randy Bruce Money, Supervisor of Access and Resource Sharing, “Many students – and their parents and our faculty – react positively”.

It only takes one visit to the reading room to see what he means. Although other libraries and spaces on campus provide study space, relaxing space, collaboration space, quiet space is still in demand for students. Watching the Carnegie Reading Room fill up everyday and stay busy – but quiet – into the evening is sure evidence of such.

“[The renovations seem] to draw from our patrons a respect for serious study and the courtesy of quiet for other patrons,” Money states. This space dominates the library character, but requires little to no policing.  Student buy-in makes that possible.

The reading room in Carnegie Library.

The reading room in Carnegie Library.

A Library for its Users

Indeed, one of the best and most successful parts of Carnegie library is a triumph for libraries of the 21st century: community support. Such a large quiet reading room would not be successful without the full endorsement from users, faculty, staff and student alike.

Jessica Rice, Library Technician at Carnegie Library, explains, “each of SU’s libraries has a different “vibe”…Every student should be able to find a library with collections and study spaces that fit them individually. Carnegie is a great niche for many people.”

The student space is not the only way Carnegie Library is leading the way. Over the years, Carnegie has contributed to enhancing library services in several ways. For example, it was the pilot location for RFID tagging. It also houses many course reserves, textbooks available for loan for just a few hours, and in response to user need organizes these by class rather than by catalog number.

This simple example shows the Carnegie Library team’s great attention to streamlining and improving user experience. Bird Library now follows Carnegie’s example in this.

What About the Books?

This is a central question for today’s library. Though it is over 100 years old, Carnegie Library is an excellent example of transition to the new information era. Yes, there are still print books and publications on shelves. Specifically, Carnegie Library hosts the STEM collections for SU campus, which is a significant responsibility.

But the libraries of the future will not be about paper and shelf collections, or even the digital collections now taking the spotlight. It will be about the people using them, providing access to them, and teaching about them. Librarians are redefining their profession, and this library space is not exempt from that.

Anita Kuiken embraces this new direction. As Librarian for Falk College, her office is in Carnegie Library and her work takes her all over campus. She exalts the importance of valuing and investing in the physical space, stating “[its] very relevant to have quiet space.”

Kuiken also emphasizes the call to action libraries are uniquely situated to answer: “It’s the information age. How are we teaching students to evaluate it and use it?” Kuiken goes on: “We provide a tailored service to students…providing the [value] lesson when they need it,” and this allows libraries to be present in the workflow of students and faculty alike.

The library’s crucial work of managing information, providing information literacy to navigate information, building and maintaining infrastructure to deliver the information, are all pieces of a greater picture of the future of libraries as hubs for information literacy.

The Future for Carnegie

The future of Carnegie Library will include still more renovations (look forward to glass floors in those historic stacks!). But the team there will also continue to adjust to the campus’s needs. Money says, “I don’t think we can underestimate the importance of the Library having and maintaining a presence directly on the quad, the heart of the University.” Certainly that is true for the space, as well as the work in information literacy it represents.

Kuiken advises that leadership for libraries and their librarians will include service, advocacy, and outreach. “All  librarians will need to be able to convey a message – it is still a people oriented job.” Carnegie Library, with its beautiful new renovations bridging the past and the future, will continue to set the tone for that work.

As Jessica Rice says, “To sum it up, Carnegie Library is small in size but large in impact.”


Pramuk, Jacob. Behind Closed Doors: Syracuse Unveils restored Carnegie Library Reading Room. 1/14/2014.

Stam, David. 1995. Peaks of Joy, Valleys of Despair: The History of the Syracuse University Library from 1871 to 1907.