The spirit of literature in Ayr

In the beginning we gathered around a warm fire to listen to stories, then we learned to read and write from which books were produced culminating in fictional tales for our enjoyment.

Well modern television with its excellent picture quality has to some extent taken the place of a book, but never dismiss a good book. With a book you form your own picture from the printed words and the book can be put down and picked up whenever circumstances permit. So books will always have a place, but it was not always so.

Remember books were costly in those days and once read were often just placed on a shelf. But what could be better than for them to pass on to someone else, and what better place to do this than in a library open to its members. The Ayr Library Society was founded in 1762 incorporating many of the private libraries of the time.

It became a public library but had to be financed by subscriptions and other fund raising methods as the Public Libraries Act only empowered local authorities to provide a free library service from public funds if the ratepayers voted in its favour. This the Ayr ratepayers did not consent to, so the library committee had to raise funds by holding public lectures by eminent people. They invited the steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, at that time residing in Cluny Castle, to be one of their speakers but due to prior commitments he had to decline.

But appreciating the situation of the Ayr Library committee he offered to provide £10,000 for a new building in Ayr to house a library complete with accommodation for the librarian providing the town would adopt the Public Libraries Act. This after some persuasion the ratepayers finally agreed to and the magnificent building you see today was erected.

The foundation stone was laid by Mrs. Carnegie in October 1892 with Andrew Carnegie receiving the freedom of the burgh. The opening ceremony was conducted by Provost Robert Shankland on 2nd. September 1893 when all the contents of the public library were made over to what was to become the Ayr Burgh Library. You will of course have noted that the Carnegie library building was completed in all aspects within a year. Inside the building is a stained glass window on the staircase with Andrew Carnegie represented in a panel below which is the seal of the Royal Burgh of Ayr. The large figure in the window is the Spirit of Literature but if you stop to count the toes on her exposed foot you will notice that there are six hmm!. See you next week.