Volume XXV · Spring 1970 · Number 3
The History of the University of Rochester Libraries--120 Years
--CATHERINE D. HAYES
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The Sibley Library Building
As the 1860's came to a close, the library was being crowded out of its one-room quarters in Anderson Hall. Robinson complained of the conditions in his annual reports and a University committee which examined the library in July, 1869, recommended that "within a few years a separate and commodious building" should be erected in which the library could find a permanent home. Hopes rose in 1870 when President Anderson announced that Hiram Sibley, a prominent Rochester businessman and a trustee of the University, would construct a "fireproof" building with the purpose of creating a library available to the general public.
By Rochester standards in the 1870's, Sibley Hall was a most imposing structure. It was made of Medina brownstone, capped with a cornice of Ohio sandstone and a mansard roof. The outside walls were double, with a light brick wall standing inside and a few inches distant from the heavy outside stone wall. More window lighting was provided to eliminate the dark corners, although students later complained that the windows were so dirty they could see no improvement. On the ground floor, the principal library room measured forty by 100 feet and rose to a height of twenty-five feet. Sibley ordered four female statues, symbolizing as many areas of knowledge, to occupy niches in the exterior walls (to the students, they were more popularly known as the "bitches in the niches"). Eight statues were originally imported from Europe, but during the voyage to the States, four were lost at sea. Sibley also gave two sphinxes to keep watch at the front of the structure.
It took almost seven years to complete the Sibley library building, seven years in which Robinson struggled with the increasing size of his library, storing more and more of the over 12,000 volumes in utility rooms and the offices of other professors. His problems with what appeared to be a voluminous collection probably seemed minor to librarians in the much older institutions in the country. In approximately the same period, Harvard had 227,000 volumes; Yale had 95,000; Georgetown had 28,000; Union, 25,000; Brown, 45,000; and Williams, 27,500 volumes. Yet many of the principal libraries were just as modest, if not more so, as Rochester. Trinity had 15,000 volumes; Tufts, 16,000; Wellesley, 10,000; Holy Cross, 12,000; Hobart, 13,000; College of William and Mary, 5,000; and University of Wisconsin, 9,000.
Finally, in the summer of 1877, the Rochester library collections were transferred from Anderson Hall to Sibley. In the twelve years that Robinson remained as librarian, the library accumulated more than 25,000 volumes. Although he attempted to open the library for more hours (sometimes four) a day, the usual opening was for two and one-half hours. It was not until 1890 that the library was open as long as five hours a day, and not until 1900 that a full daily opening was the custom. Although the library now had relatively more commodious quarters, the accommodations for patrons could hardly be called comfortable or pleasant. Visitors to the library complained of gas odors from the lighting fixtures and more often of the temperature, which averaged fifty-eight degrees during the winter. However, Rochester for the first time had adequate facilities for its library operations, and President Anderson thought he had good reason to describe the library as "one of the best organized libraries connected with any college."