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Giving Back

The philanthropy of Andrew Carnegie

by Janice Ross

Suitable for Whole School (Pri)


To encourage gratitude for libraries as a place of learning for all, and to appreciate the generosity of those who give to help others.

Preparation and materials

  • You will need the PowerPoint slides that accompany this assembly (Giving Back) and the means to display them.
  • Have available the YouTube video ‘The man who loved libraries’ and the means to show it during the assembly. It is 2.25 minutes long and is available at:


  1. Ask the children if they have ever visited a library. Ask them about different libraries that they may have visited, such as local, school or class libraries.

    Listen to a range of responses.

  2. Show Slides 1-5.

    When you show each slide, ask the following questions.

    - What do you like about this library?
    - How has this library been made attractive to children?
    - Would you like to read in this library?

    Listen to a range of responses.

  3. Ask the children what kinds of things can be borrowed from a library.

    Ask the children if they think that libraries are an important resource for a community.

    Listen to a range of responses.

  4. Explain that public libraries provide free access to all kinds of media such as books, newspapers, magazines, CDs, DVDs and audiobooks.

    Talk about your local library. Ask the children whether they borrow from a public library. How often do they go? What do they like doing there?

  5. Explain that there was a time when there were no public libraries for people to enjoy.

    Show the YouTube video ‘The man who loved libraries’.

  6. Show Slide 6.

    Ask the following questions about the video.

    - What gave the author, Andrew Larsen, the idea of writing this book? (Answer: information on a plaque outside a library in Toronto.)
    - Where was Andrew Carnegie born? (Answer: Dunfermline, Scotland.)
    - How old was Andrew when his family emigrated to the USA? (Answer: 12 years old.)
    - Why do you think the family emigrated? (Answers may include poverty, or the fact that the USA was a land of new promise.)
    Explain that Andrew’s father was a weaver and his mother repaired shoes. The family was poor, living in a one-bedroom weaver’s cottage.
    - How many books did Andrew own as a child? (Answer: none.)
    Explain that Andrew Carnegie had always been keen to learn, but in those days, only rich people owned books. Many of them had their own private libraries. In the USA, Andrew was befriended by a gentleman who had his own library and he kindly allowed Andrew to borrow his books.

  7. Explain that Andrew’s first job was in a cotton mill. He was only 13 years old. As he grew up, he worked as a telegraph messenger and a telegraph operator before starting a job on the railroad, where he soon became the superintendent. Andrew became interested in business and began investing his savings in companies that were working in iron, bridges and oil. That’s how he became very rich.

    Ask the children what they think ‘very rich’ means.

    Listen to a range of responses.

  8. Ask the children what Andrew saw as his duty. (Answer: to give away his money to help others in the community.)

    After Andrew sold his steel company, he retired from business and devoted himself full-time to philanthropy, which means that he used his money to help others. He gave away the equivalent of billions of pounds, which was most of his wealth. Among that was money for more than 2,500 libraries.

  9. Ask the children why they think Andrew decided to gift libraries with his wealth.

    Listen to a range of responses.

Time for reflection

Show Slides 7–10.

As you show the images of some of Andrew Carnegie’s many libraries around the world, encourage the children to consider how many people have benefited from his generosity.

Dear God,
Thank you for Andrew Carnegie and for what he learned about sharing his wealth with others.
We thank you for all the wealthy people in the world who do the same today.
Thank you that everyone can know the joy of giving.
Thank you that it is not the size nor the value of a gift that is important, but the giving heart behind it.
Help us all to be generous givers.

Publication date: June 2019   (Vol.21 No.6)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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