University of Rochester Library Bulletin: The History of the University of Rochester Libraries--120 Years, Chp. 9

Volume XXV · Spring 1970 · Number 3
The History of the University of Rochester Libraries--120 Years

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Planning a New Library

Rush Rhees LibraryVery early in his administration Gilchrist was given the responsibility of planning a new main library which would be one of a number of University buildings erected on the new men's campus at Oak Hill, on the Genesee River. 

The institution, which during all of its early years had been a university in name only, was being transformed into a genuine university, and a more sophisticated physical plant seemed necessary. There also was the argument for two independent colleges, which would ideally provide the women with separate but equal facilities and education, once the men were resituated on the new River Campus. Having separate quarters for women, it was believed, would inspire more financial support for the education of women. 

Like his predecessors, Gilchrist was nagged by problems of inadequate library facilities, and he welcomed the prospect of planning a new building: "We are particularly fascinated with the prospect of having a properly planned new building at Oak Hill, after occupying our present quarters for six years, squeezing in a desk here, a thousand books there, getting tables a few inches closer together to make room for a few more readers." With his knowledge of the history of the University library, Gilchrist understood that his planning must be for years into the future, affecting not only the years of his administration, but also all of the succeeding years and different library administrations. He reported to President Rhees:

"There is every reason to believe in and plan for an even greater library activity here than can be provided for in the immediate future, and foresighted planning will enable future administrations to add to the library building without completely rebuilding. Assuming that our collection will continue to grow at the same rate maintained during the past seventy-five years, the University will have over a million and a half books sixty years hence, and to anticipate such an expansion with other phases of the plan . . . is imperative unless we expect the new building to be turned to other purposes and another constructed before that time. . . . Too many buildings have been planned of late without foreseeing the need for future additions; too many have been inadequate before they have been occupied; too much thought and study cannot be given to the opportunity before us of saving future trouble by anticipating it."

Sketches for the new building were prepared as early as 1921, and later developed in accordance with the general design for the River Campus. President Rhees and the trustees finally approved a $1,350,833 plan for the library building. It would provide space for a million volumes or even twice that number with the construction of future additions. The location of the library was planned so that it would be in close relationship to the teaching buildings and also have adequate space for the development of these anticipated additions. 

The new University campus for the college of men was formally dedicated on October 10-12, 1930. Gilchrist, who was primarily responsible for planning the general arrangement of the new library, described the striking architectural features of the building:

"The central part of the front facade and all the trim are of Indiana limestone, the remainder of Harvard brick. Above the main entrance is a classic portico of six Doric pillars, surmounted by a heavy, handcarved stone pediment, showing a decorative group of four human figures, two kneeling and two seated, and two lions, centered about the University seal. . . . In the frieze across the front of the building are carved the names of Aristotle, Augustine, Descartes, Newton, Kant, Franklin, Darwin, Plato, Vergil, Dante, Goethe and Shakespeare. . . . 

"The broad entrance steps are of granite, surmounted on either side by a large ornamental, stone urn, eight feet in height and decorated with scroll work in relief. On the face of the building back of these urns are carved, in five-inch letters, two inscriptions, as follows: 

'Here is the history of human ignorance folly war and waste recorded by human intelligence for the admonition of wiser ages still to come.' 

'Here is the history of man's hunger for truth goodness and beauty leading him slowly on through flesh to spirit from bondage to freedom from war to peace.' 

"The main entrance consists of three sets of double, teakwood doors, with heavy plate glass panels, protected by decorative bronze grilles, incorporating early printers' marks, and in the lower panels, the following inscriptions: 

'The doors of the past open to those who seek to know what has been the history of the stars, the earth, sunlight, life and man's long journey; The doors of the present open to those who wonder what life may become-when men are free in body and soul, loving all beauty, serving in many ways one God.'
Reserved Reading Room"The entrance opens onto the mosaic marble floor of the main lobby or foyer, measuring 34 feet in width and 80 feet deep. The walls are finished in Indiana limestone and colonnaded with fluted stone pillars. Recessed between these pillars are exhibit cases. Above the exhibit cases on the left are bronze medallions of the Muses and in the stone lintel of the entrance to the Welles-Brown Room dedicated to the enjoyment of good books, is a carved head of Mnemosyne, mother of the Muses and Goddess of Memory. Above the exhibit cases opposite, medallions symbolize the various methods of recording human thought from Papyrus to Typesetting, and over the entrance to the required reading room is a carved head of Minerva, Goddess of Wisdom. At the rear of the lobby is the double grand stairway, having solid stone balustrades with early printers' marks of different periods and nations cut in the stone.
Welles Brown Room"Both reading rooms on the first floor measure 42 by 72 feet. The required reading room will accommodate 120 people and has an open shelf capacity of 7,000 volumes. The Welles-Brown Room, accommodating 5,000 choice volumes, has oak-paneled walls, a stained glass memorial window in a recess at the north end, a fireplace, comfortable furniture and other luxurious accoutrements of a private club. The expense of furnishing and equipping this room was borne jointly by two alumni, Francis R. Welles 1875 and Charles A. Brown 1879."

The stained glass window in the alcove of the Welles-Brown Room was given by Mr. and Mrs. Brown in memory of their daughter, Meredith Brown Skelton, who died in 1925 at the age of 26. It is a decorative landscape, symbolic of life and beyond the university-a quiet garden in springtime surrounded by a wall (the University-its culture and sheltering restrictions). Through the garden runs a river (Life) beside which grows a sapling ash tree just budding (Youth). The fountain (Knowledge) waters the garden and overflows into the river. Around the garden are young children (Humanity) playing and drinking the water. A path is seen in the middle distance which leads through an open gateway into the distant landscape (Life beyond the University) through the dark woods (Uncertainty) to the city (Industry) and the peaks of a mountain range (Achievement). 

CirculationThe second floor was the working floor of the library. Across the greater part of the front was the high-ceilinged main reading room. At the rear of the stair hall was the public card index and loan department. On the south side was the periodical room, and on the other side, and extending to the rear of the building, was the administrative division, including staff offices, cataloging and order departments. 

Symbolizing IndustryIn the stair hall at the second floor level are two larger than life size statues, one of Minerva in full regalia, symbolizing knowledge, and one symbolizing industry. These nine foot tall ladies have never endeared themselves to university or library administrators; their principal admirers have been the generations of students who have painted their toe nails or irreverently adorned the lips of Medusa, carved on Minerva's shield, with cigarettes. The great granite statue which represents industry first held a camera in her left hand, probably someone's idea of a suitable tribute to George Eastman, the Kodak multi-millionaire whose generous gifts had benefited the university. But even Eastman thought this gesture a bit incongruous and the camera was recarved into the lamp of knowledge. 

Rush Rhees TowerAlways the most imposing feature of the building has been the library tower, nineteen stories, 186 feet high. Its upper portion is encircled by two graduated tiers of stone pillars, the lower of which constitutes an open colonnade, illuminated by almost 200 floodlights. An amusing story of these floodlights has been recorded:

"For the building of the River Campus there was a building committee of President Rush Rhees, Raymond N. Ball, university treasurer, and a faculty member. Ball got the idea that it would be attractive to floodlight the tower of the Library. He learned that it would cost $50,000 and raised the question with Rhees who said "No." In the summer of the year, however, Rhees went to Europe. While he was gone, the Library reached the completion stage and Ball made the decision to have the lights installed. After Rhees returned, Ball told him that he had floodlights installed in the tower. Rhees banged the desk, and said, "Sonny" (his customary name for Ball) "We decided against that" . . . and he started to reprimand Ball. Ball, however, cut him off saying, "I refuse to be scolded until you see what the tower looks like. I am going to pick you up in my car tonight." This he did, having arranged with the support of the Buildings and Grounds people, to have the tower lighted. It was a beautiful fall evening and they drove to the campus along the west bank of the river and when they reached a point where the tower was fully visible and by chance also reflected from the surface of the river which was perfectly calm, Rhees said nothing. They drove across the river by the campus, down to the stadium and back up to in front of Eastman Quadrangle. President Rhees still said nothing. They finally stopped for a few minutes at the head of Eastman Quadrangle, and Rhees turned to Ball and said, "Sonny, that was a good idea and the right decision that we made to light the tower."

In the summit of the tower is the Hopeman Memorial Chime of nineteen bells, weighing a total of 34,000 pounds. Seventeen of these bells were given the University in 1930 by the children of Arendt Willem Hopeman, in memory of their father. In 1955 members of the Hopeman family contributed $25,000 for the purchase of two additional bells and their installation, and for an endowment for their maintenance. 

Professor Slater was the first bellman, and for posterity, he left the following poetic inscription on the wall in the bell tower:

"Hear them at the evening chime
Bells of the future, bells of the past,
Bells of beautiful things that last,
Eternity, telling time."

Construction of the new library inspired the legend of its favorite, if not its only ghost. As the story is told, Pete Nicosia, a Sicilian mason's helper, was working on the library tower during construction. While hard at work Pete slipped and fell 150 feet to his death. His foreman, James Conroy, signed the death certificate and saw to the burial arrangements. A few years later, however, several students reported that they had met a stranger dressed in a tattered sweater and workman's overalls in front of a building adjacent to the library. This man asked the boys where he could find James Conroy. He said that he (Pete) never did check out at the end of the day and that Conroy owed him some pay for the time he put in before he was killed. The students didn't know what to think, so they directed him to the service building. A short time later two of the students were standing in the library tower looking over the countryside when the same strange-looking man came walking up to them. He commented on the great height of the tower and when informed by one of the students that it was about 150 feet to the ground, the man said in a half-whisper, "And it didn't hurt a bit." During the weeks that followed, this man was seen popping in and out in various places around the library. One day a man who had been on hand when the tower was being built saw the sweater-clad stranger and quickly rushed out of the library, yelling that he had seen a ghost. He swore that the "ghost" looked enough like Pete Nicosia to be either him or his twin brother, if he had a twin brother. To this day the legend of Pete Nicosia persists and on occasion the campus newspaper will relate a new account of a meeting with Pete in the library stacks or tower. 

The fine, new library, named for President Rhees, attracted world-wide interest and visitors. Representatives from the Bodeleian Library Commission, the University of Oslo, University of British Columbia, Public Library of Stockholm, and the Universities of Arkansas, Cornell, Princeton, Wellesley, Northwestern, and many other institutions visited, carefully taking notes as they examined the new building. 

Meanwhile, Sibley Hall, the old library on what was to be the women's campus, was being renovated. In the Greater University Campaign of 1924 Hiram W. Sibley gave $50,000 for that purpose. Gilchrist was ecstatic, writing that "the alterations made in Sibley Hall in any other year would have been sensational! The transformation has made this historic building a centralized, adequate, and comfortably ample college library building." Most of the Sibley collection had been moved to the new River Campus library, and the impression of bareness left by the few thousand books where every shelf had been overcrowded before, was a shock to those returning to school in the fall of 1930. By 1931, however, the growth of the Sibley collection caused Gilchrist to accept the possibility that one day a book stack might be necessary even for this library. 

Gilchrist was concerned with the development of collections and the building of the library, as well as with the encouragement of gifts and the development of techniques of librarianship. Throughout all his efforts, his underlying assumption was that "service is the reason for a library, and the chief emphasis in appraising the value of its library to the University should be placed on the extent to which it (the library) has, can acquire, and can make conveniently available, the books and information wanted." Gilchrist knew, however, that service must be supported by more intelligently developed collections. In 1925 he initiated a new general fund to be known as a "research fund," to be used for extraordinary purchases such as current or out of print books for new courses, for back sets of periodicals, or for sets of source materials in a specific field for advanced research work. This fund was to be controlled by a faculty library committee, acting upon the recommendations originating with the heads of departments or the librarian. 

In 1928 and 1929 Gilchrist pointed out that "our experience with 66 graduate students this year has indicated a woeful weakness in the necessary materials in both English and foreign literature. Studies in 17th and 18th century topics both in history and literature are seriously hampered because so many books needed are now rare, expensive and reluctantly loaned from the treasure rooms of other institutions. The further extension of graduate work in the humanities should be predicated on very greatly increased book appropriations for developing book collections." 

Soon after the opening of Rush Rhees Library, Gilchrist pointed out that "up to the present time the library has played a wholly supplementary role in the educational program." Again and again he pressed his point, that there is no function of the library more vital to the future work of independent research and development of graduate study in the university than extending its collections. He pleaded that "the library still lacks the materials for advanced work in any field, and the appropriations allowed in recent years have been inadequate to encourage widening the boundaries of our buying policy." 

During his last years as librarian he could report that "with very few exceptions the teaching departments of the university reported satisfactory, well-rounded reference collections fully adequate to the needs of undergraduate courses." But, without the proper funds, Gilchrist could only describe his collections as minimal for graduate research. He was, however, to see some movement toward more comprehensive buying of books and the growing appreciation by administrative officials that graduate programs which were developing so rapidly must have significant support in the library. In 1935 the faculty library committee decided that the time had come when the library should plan to reach beyond utilitarian buying, and make a start in the collection of older and rarer books in fields where such collecting would be really pertinent to the purpose of the university. 

There also was a "new wrinkle" in publishing which gave Gilchrist some help in his efforts to develop collections for graduate study. This was the publishing of books and periodicals on microfilm. In 1935 Gilchrist reported that "Something (microfilm) nearly as revolutionary as the invention of Gutenberg in the middle of the fifteenth century is just falling into the laps of librarians. For the purely utilitarian purposes of scholarship in fields where scarcity or high prices make ownership of originals prohibitive, these new methods of reproduction promise extraordinary returns for the library research dollar." 

Gilchrist's pleas for more comprehensive and specialized buying attracted the attention of Alan Valentine, the young president who had succeeded Rush Rhees in 1935. Valentine urged a survey of all library collections as they related to the university's graduate pro grams. The survey was conducted in 1938 and its findings were quite explicit about the fields which merited more extensive purchasing for graduate programs. 

In the physical sciences seventy graduate courses were being offered, with twenty-seven master's candidates and twenty-one Ph.D. candidates. Chemistry, physics, and optics all appeared to have good fundamental research collections available. Collections in geology and engineering, however, had scarcely more materials than were adequate for the purposes of undergraduate teaching. This was thought not to be too serious a handicap, since neither department had more than four advanced students. In the biological sciences of botany, zoology, and psychology, twenty-eight graduate courses were offered with eight master's candidates and fifteen Ph.D. candidates. All of these fields had well-rounded reference collections with psychology and zoology developing some basic research materials. The social sciences had eighty-four graduate courses to offer some sixty-one master's candidates. Most of these, forty-one, were in education, and only one student, in economics, was a Ph.D. candidate. None of these departments, including education, economics, government, history and sociology, had more than well-rounded reference collections available in the library. In the humanities: fine arts, the classics, literature, philosophy, and religion, thirty graduate courses were being offered. There were only nine master's candidates and only one Ph.D. candidate in English literature. As in the social sciences, the collections for these departments had not advanced beyond the stage of the well-rounded reference library. 

Gilchrist evaluated the different collections by stages. As noted, most of the departments had reached the second stage of the well-rounded reference collection. A few had developed into fundamental research collections. None, however, appeared to have a comprehensive or specialized research library collection. 

During his tenure, Gilchrist encouraged the increased use of the library. One of his innovations was the use of reserved books to facilitate the most efficient use of a limited number of books assigned to large classes. Although he closed the stacks to students when he first arrived, he later reopened them, although on a limited basis, and decided that the freer use of the collections was generally beneficial to the students' work. He sought to create interest in the collections by publishing a newssheet called the Fortnightly Bulletin which carried notes on books and on aspects of library service. One of the new features described in 1925 was a fountain pen filling station where students could fill their pens for a penny. Gilchrist reported that the reason for its installation and the charge was that "during the last college year the library had to buy nine gallons of ink to keep our assiduous clients supplied . . . we have a feeling that our money might better be spent for books." Gilchrist promoted periodic exhibits and a series of programs on literary or bookish subjects in the Welles Brown Room. Writing under the pen name of Henry Pyecroft, he also contributed a series of chatty, informal columns on books and literary figures to the student newspaper. 

When Gilchrist first arrived he noted that the great increase in library accessions had strained the system of classification of books to the breaking point. For its first three-quarters of a century, the library used locally devised classification systems, except during a period in the 1890's when the Dewey Decimal Classification received limited use. The last local system, broadly based on the curriculum, was devised in 1900 by two faculty members. It was used until 1927 when, in anticipation of the rapid growth of the library because of the forthcoming move to the River Campus and the creation of a separate library for the College of Women, the Library of Congress system, with some modifications, was adopted. Work on reclassification of the collection was begun in 1927 and completed in four years. 

In Gilchrist's first year as librarian, 1919, he reported a total of 81,500 volumes in the collections of all the University libraries. There was a total annual circulation of 47,000 volumes and a total annual budget approaching $20,000. In 1927 the whole university had a collection of 152,000 volumes, of which 100,000 were in Rush Rhees; the others in the music and medical libraries. Total circulation was 160,000, and there was a greatly expanded budget of $93,000. In his last annual report for the academic year 1938-1939, Gilchrist reported a total library collection of 345,522 volumes and a circulation figure of 315,126. The budget had reached a new high of $123,547. These increased funds for library operations was indicative of the University administration's interest in and support of its library. A more meaningful indication of this support was the percentage of the total University budget spent on the library. University Treasurer Ball, in 1925, reported that the University was spending 9.72 percent of its total budget for library purposes, "an expenditure per student, figuring 835 students, of $46.34." He compared these figures to those available from Dartmouth College, where the administration was spending 5.7 percent of its total budget on library purposes, or an expenditure of $31.01 per student. 

Gilchrist did not live to see his goals for the library fully realized. Because of his sudden and unexpected death in 1939 there was a pause in his ambitious plans for a truly great university library. Professor Slater said of Gilchrist:

"But being a librarian of the new school rather than the old, his prime concern was not the possession but the use of books. To keep them safe was not enough; we must keep them moving. Hence his constant quest for convenience and system dispatch. They were not ends in themselves but means to the multiplication of readers. Whether for the use of scholars in research or of students in routine assignments, he held that the best books should be accessible at the right place and the right time. . . ."

Library History continued >>