The Best Gift: Montana’s Carnegie Libraries

Between 1901 and 1922, seventeen Montana communities received grants from Andrew Carnegie to construct free-to-the-public libraries.

Of those, fifteen still grace the state’s cultural landscape, and nine continue to serve as public libraries. Together, Montana’s Carnegie libraries represent the state’s coming-of-age in the decades following statehood, when agricultural centers and mining towns established themselves and sought permanence and stability. Individually, each tells the story of the people and organizations that rallied personal interest and civic obligation to establish an enduring local institution.

A celebration of Montana’s heritage, The Best Gift: Montana’s Carnegie Libraries captures the lasting legacy of Carnegie libraries in Montana through essays accompanied by historical and contemporary photographs. The book is organized into seventeen chapters—each documenting a particular community’s efforts to establish a Carnegie Library. Eight libraries constructed between 1902 and 1907 reflect the first wave of Carnegie library administration. During this early period, communities simply conveyed in writing their population size, commitment to secure a building site, and willingness to provide perpetual maintenance funding. Through his Secretary James Bertram, Andrew Carnegie routinely authorized $2 per capita toward library construction, with little oversight on architectural design. After 1907, Bertram required library projects to follow a standardized application process and formulaic architectural design. Nine of Montana’s Carnegie libraries, constructed from 1909-1922, reflected these changes.

This richly illustrated book, with a foreword by New York Times bestselling author Jamie Ford (Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet and Love and Other Consolation Prizes), offers an in-depth look at Montana’s long-term commitment to public education, social improvement, and civic responsibility. Architectural historian and author Kate Hampton teams up with award-winning photographer Tom Ferris to create a beautiful and well-documented history of the twenty-year process that built seventeen public Carnegie libraries in Montana. These libraries began as cultural and architectural touchstones for their communities, and they tie local history to important statewide and national events, programs, and trends.

The Best Gift: Montana’s Carnegie Libraries is available now at local bookstores or online at

For wholesale inquiries contact Farcountry Press at 1-800-821-3874.

All proceeds will support Carnegie libraries and historic library preservation in Montana.


Surviving Carnegie Libraries in Montana