THE woman who led to Keighley library being built has ‘returned’ there for a special occasion.

Librarians from the world’s first Carnegie Library, in Dunfermline - birthplace of industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie - visited Keighley Library in its 120th anniversary year.

Keighley Library was England’s first Carnegie Library. Andrew Carnegie, one of the richest Americans in history, had libraries built around the world.

Bradford actor, writer and storyteller Irene Lofthouse met the visitors at Keighley Library in the guise of Louise Whitfield, Andrew Carnegie’s wife.

Back in 2019, during National Libraries’ Week, Irene performed Louise’s story to a packed audience at the library. She had planned to take her performance on tour, but it was put on hold due to the pandemic.

Says Irene: “I had contacted Dunfermline about Louise, but of course the timing wasn’t right. So I was both surprised and delighted when, out of the blue, Frank Connelly, Director of Dynamic Dunfermline, got in touch with me in December about performing ‘Louise’ in Andrew’s home town in 2024.”

Frank takes up the story: “My colleague and I have always wanted to visit Keighley Library and coming across Irene’s email again rekindled the idea of a visit, to meet our English counterparts in the library’s anniversary year.”

Irene says the event was “ a great opportunity for Keighley Library to show and share its local studies resources and archives with Dunfermline.”

She adds: “As a regular user, I know it has lots of material relating to the story of Carnegie and Swire Smith and the funding for the library, with documents and pictures that may be new to Frank and Sharron McColl, his colleague.

“The120th anniversary is a fantastic time for the meeting. It was a fabulous event, with much discussion about how the two libraries could links and share collaborative Carnegie-themed events through the year.

“It was definitely a brilliant start to a celebratory year. I’m sure Andrew and Louise be looking on and smiling.”

Andrew Carnegie led the expansion of the American steel industry in the late 19th century and became one of the richest Americans in history. He became a leading philanthropist and over the last two decades of his life he gave around $350 million (around $6.5 billion today) to charities, foundations and universities. His philanthropic legacy included funding the famous Carnegie Hall in New York and establishing public libraries in countries including America, Britain, Canada and New Zealand.

A Keighley News article in 2019 described Carnegie’s wife, Louise Whitfield Carnegie, as “the woman whose persuasive powers led to Keighley Library being built”.

The report continued: “Mrs Carnegie encouraged husband Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish/American industrialist, to give away his fortune to build free public libraries.

“Keighley’s historic Carnegie Library opened in 1904 - the first library in England to be funded by Andrew Carnegie, with a grant of £10,000 - but it was his wife, New York born Louise, who began the story.

“Born in 1857 in Manhattan, Mrs Carnegie continued making charitable donations to organisations after her husband’s death, including the American Red Cross and Second World War relief.”