City Quotient: The Story Behind the Library's Inscriptions

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly
Like the Greek and Roman architecture that inspired it, Columbus Metropolitan Library sports a lot of carved inscriptions.

What was the inspiration for the inscribed quotations on the front of the Columbus Metropolitan Library? How and why were they chosen?

Our top-rated library opened in 1907, one of 1,679 U.S. public libraries (and another 830 in the U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand) built with steel magnate Andrew Carnegie's fortune. Thankful that a private library helped him move up in the world, between 1881 and 1919 Carnegie awarded $60 million in library grants. Ohio received money for almost 80 Carnegie libraries between 1899 and 1915.

Like the Greek and Roman architecture that inspired it, our library sports a lot of carved inscriptions. The letter awarding funds to Columbus "suggested" that "My Treasures Are Within" be used. Columbus took the hint and made it the biggest and most visible inscription. Carnegie required anyone be allowed to use the libraries he funded; "Open to All" over the main door makes that clear.

Other inscriptions feature the Greek poet Homer and the Roman Virgil, as well as a Latin phrase, "Bibliotheca Fons Eruditionis" ("The Library, the Source of Learning"). There's a long one crediting Carnegie with funding the library, and another that says "ANNO MCMIV." CQ likes to joke this means the architect was Scottish like Carnegie and was named Anno McMiv, but in fact it means "In the Year 1904," when the cornerstone was laid.

Jeff Darbee is a preservationist, historian and author in Columbus. Send your questions to, and the answer might appear in a future column.