Volume XXV · Spring 1970 · Number 3
The History of the University of Rochester Libraries--120 Years
--CATHERINE D. HAYES
The History of the University of Rochester Libraries 120 Years
Impossible dreams were the dreams of University of Rochester founders 120 years ago. They envisioned a university which would be "a great depot of intellectual wealth and wisdom" and its $50,000 library which would be a "full, free, and ever-flowing fountain" of knowledge. It is a wondrous fact that these aspirations never really faded, even though repeatedly faced with the sorry realities of finances and the harsh strictures of war.
The men who proposed the university, who initiated its opening in 1850, and who proceeded undaunted through the years of mere survival, were visionaries, to be sure, but, they were also make-do men, and from the most meager of beginnings and support they built and created, laying the cornerstone upon which the university and library of their hopes eventually approached their early goals. What they did with very little laid the basis and inspiration for the expansion of the twentieth century. As one University historian, John Rothwell Slater, expressed in his address, "Rochester at Seventy-five."
"If we smile at it (the past) today, our smile is the smile not of superiority but of a thoughtful regret. We have gained much; but one thing is lost beyond recovery, and that is the power to do much with little, to make brains take the place of dollars, to build sound education upon unsound finance; to fill bare rooms with ambitions and splendid dreams, for which our modern school houses of stone and steel too often wait in vain."
The University of Rochester opened its doors on the first Monday in November, 1850, in the former United States Hotel, a four-story structure of brick and stone on the north side of Buffalo (later West Main) Street, close to Elizabeth (now Clarissa) Street. The founders had a charter, one building, sixty students, and a faculty of eight. Equally modest was the one-room, poorly lighted and poorly heated library on the first floor of the hotel. These humble library quarters were a compromise from financial necessity since the founders initially had issued a plea to friends in western New York to raise $50,000 to purchase books and erect a building for the university library. The ambitions were to create a "literary rallying point" not only for the students and faculty, but also for the ministers, doctors, lawyers, merchants, farmers, and mechanics of western New York. These extravagant plans evaporated as the money was not forthcoming, and the remaining concern was to create a serviceable reading room where students could prepare their essays and speeches.
The first book purchased by the University was a quarto Bible for the chapel which also was housed in the United States Hotel, but the first book actually purchased for the library was a two-volume copy of Julius Weisbach's Principles of the Mechanics of Machinery and Engineering. The second book purchased was John Stuart Mill's Logic. Orders were placed in Rochester and mailed to New York and Europe for other books and periodicals, and among those first purchases were a set of thirty volumes of the collected works of Charles Rollin, in French, the North American Review, the Edinburgh Review, Jared Sparks' Library of American Biography, Stone's Life of Red Jacket, and the works of Goldsmith and Macaulay. In 1852 the school spent $2,083 on books, of which $1,180 went for books from English sales, and $300 was given to Asahel Clark Kendrick, professor of Greek, to buy books on his trip abroad. Book buying was directed to the purchase of standard works in language, history, literature, and science, with a policy of filling the library shelves with only "good" books.
Several professors, including Professor Kendrick, who was to become the University's first librarian, donated their personal libraries to the new library. There were some gifts from friends of the new University, although one early librarian reported that "we never encourage friends to send us the refuse from their attics." One friend, Dr. John F. Boynton, of Syracuse, gave the proceeds of a lecture on Egypt toward the purchase of Lepsius' The Monuments of Egypt and the Nile. Another friend, David Mills, of Brooklyn, gave Lord Kingsborough's Antiquities of Mexico, a nine-volume folio set valued at $200 at the time (today worth some $3,000). A "benevolent gentleman in Newark" purchased fifty-five volumes of collections of the various historical societies, and forwarded them to Rochester as a beginning for a department of American history, and Theodore Van Heusen, a merchant of Albany, presented a volume on the lives of American generals and commodores, with descriptions of medals struck off in their honor.
The fledgling school also had the advantage of using the library of the Rochester Theological Seminary (later Colgate-Rochester Divinity School), which shared the hotel facilities for the ten years the University occupied that building. In 1851-1852 the combined libraries had over 3,000 volumes. By the next year, the total had increased to nearly 10,000 volumes, when the Seminary acquired the private library of Johann August W. Neander, the German ecclesiastical historian. This library, for such a young institution, attracted the attention of a Syracuse newspaper which reported that it is "one of the best libraries we have ever seen . . . selected by the most experienced bibliothecaries, and devoid of old lumber and trash of all kinds."
The library's pace of growth was impressive in its first three years of existence, but it slackened from 1854 to 1865, due mainly to the financial difficulties faced by the University. In that period only about 200 volumes were added each year.
Seemingly there were no great pressures for more substantial or dramatic changes in the library. The curriculum of the school was modest and fixed. For the students, classroom lectures were supplemented only by prescribed texts. They were not asked or expected to concern themselves with research, and, therefore, their use of the library was only casual. The educational requirements also were reflected in the administration of the library. It was open only one hour a day for consultation and two hours on Saturdays for the withdrawal of books. Students supervised the library during these limited hours, and their chief tasks were to enter new books on the accession list and to record the books borrowed and returned. The student assistant would sometimes fail to report to work; then, the supervision of the library fell to the school janitor.
The regulations for the Library were strict and precise. A few of these can be happily recalled:
"During these hours (of opening) there shall be no loud conversation in the room.
"The librarian shall not permit others (non-university) to take any book from the room without a written order from a member of the Faculty or of the Executive Board, to whose account the book shall be charged, with the name of the person to whom it is delivered, and if not returned in four weeks, shall be sent for by the librarian.
"A student may take two volumes at a time from the library.
"If a book, taken out by a student, is not returned at the end of two weeks, the delinquent shall be fined one shilling for every week's detention of it after that time.
"Ink is not to be used in making notes or extracts from books."
A librarian was not formally appointed until 1853, although Albert H. Mixer, professor of modern languages, and Ezra Job Fish, a senior from Medina, New York, had served in that capacity. The first duly appointed librarian was Professor Kendrick who was chosen by the faculty to serve on a spare time basis and to prepare the library's first catalog. The catalog Kendrick created was comprised of two folio books, bound in leather with sheets of cheap brown paper. In these books he pasted author-title slips, spacing them carefully so that he could make additions in the alphabetical sequences. At about the same time a student assistant started an accession book, in which each library volume was entered and assigned a number which no other volume would ever have. Kendrick's book catalog was discontinued in the 1860's, but the accession record was maintained until July, 1962. Both are preserved in the library today.
Kendrick and his assistants seemed concerned primarily with accounting for the whereabouts of books and with keeping statistics. Commonly read in early reports of the librarians to the Board of Trustees was the somewhat proud assertion that "with a very few exceptions the books can be accounted for by being on the shelves or charged on the register." Ezra Fish reported this happy condition and hopefully added that, of the exceptions, "the majority will I think be found (safe no doubt) in the hands of those over whom the Librarian has no supervision." And, would that a librarian today could echo Fish in saying: "A very small No. (only 2 or 3 that I now remember) called for by the catalogue I have never been able to find."
Most of the responsibility for selecting books for the library during these years was assumed by the first president, Martin Brewer Anderson. Interested in the library and its development, he selected many of the volumes himself, and considered all recommendations from the faculty. He then passed his choices on to the executive committee of the Board of Trustees which in these early days made the final decision on all purchases.
It was not the University's fortune through these lean years to receive gifts of great and significant private libraries, or of substantial endowments to provide an impetus for library growth. There were a few modest gifts from founders and friends of the University and from faculty members. The Rev. Frederick W. Holland of Boston, formerly the Unitarian minister in Rochester, donated a large and valuable collection of books. The Rev. William Dean, upon whom the University had conferred an honorary doctorate, sent a collection of Chinese books from Hong Kong. There were the classics of Chinese literature and Christian writings about China, together with a selection of Oriental curiosities, all of which he hoped would form the nucleus of an important Chinese library. Although his contributions were lost or given away through the years, his hopes were eventually realized in the 1960's with the establishment of an East Asia (Chinese and Japanese) library.
By 1857 the Rochester library had acquired 6,500 volumes, aside from the collection of the Theological Seminary. In approximately the same year, library holdings of other prominent college libraries in the country (all older institutions) were reported as follows: Yale, 36,000; Bowdoin, 14,300; Hamilton, 3,340; Hobart, 3,282; Union, 9,000; Amherst, 12,000; Harvard, 74,000; University of Michigan, 7,000; Princeton, 11,000; Columbia, 18,000; and Bucknell University which was founded a year later than Rochester, 3,000.
In the early 1860's the University moved from the United States Hotel to new quarters on University Avenue. When the move was completed in the fall of 1861, the library was housed in Anderson Hall, the first University building on its new campus. The library was given a thirty by forty foot room on the ground floor or first floor directly back of the front hall, making the library room the easiest to pass into upon entering the building. Because of this easy access, the library room became the rendezvous of students before chapel hour in the morning.
With the new building and campus there were new hopes, but the realities of the Civil War dashed them. The students marched off to war, only about 100 remaining in the classrooms; the cost of living boomed, and salaries were cut. There was little money available for University expenses. The University struggled to remain open and as a result the library did little more than exist.
At War's end in 1865, President Anderson did turn his attention to the library, reporting to the trustees in his annual report:
"It is highly important that more labor and care be given to the library. There is needed now the work of a man for three months on the books and pamphlets, to put them in a proper state. Many books need binding; and a more careful administration of the library is needed. This, like all deficiencies, is a matter of money. We cannot expect the librarian, who has nothing for his work; nor the assistant, who has but $100 a year, to do any great amount of work on the books. . . ."
Until 1866 the library had a budget of only $300, of which $200 went toward the purchase of books and $100 to pay the library assistant. Part of this came from a student library fee of fifty cents per term, increased in 1863 to one dollar. It was not unusual in that day for the librarian not to receive compensation for his work. Many institutions did not pay a salary, since the librarian usually received compensation for teaching or some other duty. Some statistics prepared in 1859 by William J. Rhees of the Smithsonian Institution showed that of some eighty-six colleges which paid their librarians, the average salary was $450 a year. The highest paid librarians of the day were those at Harvard, $1,300, and at South Carolina College, $1,500.
It was during the 1860's that the library was the beneficiary of its first major endowment. In 1857 the State had granted a $25,000 fund "for books, philosophical apparatus and university buildings." The grant was contingent upon the raising of a "matching fund" which was generously provided by Gen. John F. Rathbone of Albany. He donated valuable timberlands in Pennsylvania, and when this matching gift became available in 1866, it formed an endowment which through the years has provided more than one hundred thousand dollars in income for books and other library expenses. This $25,000 endowment can be compared to the endowments of other college libraries by figures listed in 1876, showing Harvard with $169,000; Dartmouth, $37,000; Yale, $65,500; Trinity, $35,000; Brown, $25,000; Princeton, $40,000 and the Wesleyan library, $27,000.
Library History continued >>
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