University of Rochester Library Bulletin: The History of the University of Rochester Libraries--120 Years, Chp. 10

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

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The War Years and a New Librarian

John R. RussellA search for a successor to Gilchrist was initiated, and in the interim, Professor Slater, who was chairman of the library committee, assumed direction of the library, a move which once again illustrated the faculty library committee's deep involvement in the affairs of the University library. This active concern with the library had developed in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when the faculty library committee was more often than not charged with the administration of the library. Even after the appointment of professional administrators, the library committee kept fully informed on library matters and met often with the librarians to discuss and approve the specifics of the library budget and operational procedures. The faculty committee was still vitally concerned with library matters as the 1940's opened, and a few years after Professor Slater served as librarian, another English professor, Richard L. Greene, directed library operations during the librarian's illness. The task of finding a new librarian in 1939 was the responsibility of the library committee, and early in 1940 President Valentine announced the appointment of John Richmond Russell. Russell, who had degrees from the University of Chicago and University of Michigan, had worked at the Michigan library and the New York Public Library, and had been chief of the Division of Cataloging of the National Archives in Washington. Russell was to face not only multifarious problems created by the rapid expansion of the University curriculum and libraries during the 1930's, but also those created by the impact of World War II. 

The most immediate problem was that of stack space in Rush Rhees Library, a problem which had concerned Gilchrist four years previously and Professor Slater in his brief tenure as head of the library. The average number of books added to Rush Rhees during the five years previous to 1940 was 9,000 a year. When Rush Rhees Library was opened in 1930 only five of its nineteen levels were fitted with bookshelves, and by 1940 were accommodating approximately 200,000 volumes. Under Russell's direction, three more levels were fitted with shelves, increasing the library's capacity to almost 300,000 books. In all, 21,000 additional running feet of shelving were added, or approximately four miles of shelf room. It was estimated that this would provide adequate space for the University's main book collection for the next ten or eleven years. 

The war naturally affected the work of the library both directly and indirectly. It was extremely difficult, if not impossible, for most of the war years, to obtain foreign books and periodicals. There was also the problem of physical security for library collections. One of the first undertakings of the library after the United States entered the war was a survey of library collections to determine which materials should be moved to places of greater safety. The two vaults in Rush Rhees were chosen as the safest storage places, and the manuscripts and most valuable books were carefully arranged there. Other materials from the music, medical, and art libraries were moved to the same vaults. Plans also were prepared for moving valuable reference sets, the official catalog, and shelf list when bombing might seem imminent. 

In addition to these plans for protecting library materials, members of the staff were involved in operations designed for the protection of the readers and staff in the event of an air raid. Some were appointed as building wardens, fire watchers, air wardens, and couriers. Others took first aid courses to prepare for emergencies in which staff and library patrons might be injured. The library began to build up a collection of books on defense and civilian morale long before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Later the library became a War Information Center. Librarians collected materials for radio broadcasts sponsored by the Center, and accumulated great amounts of pamphlet and book material for use by the Center in the library. They also assisted in the collection of books for the Victory Book Campaign, for distributing books to American soldiers and sailors, and gave advice and assistance to Rochester industries engaged in war and defense activities. 

The library established an Educational Film Service which, during the war years, was to provide to great numbers of individuals, schools, and organizations in Rochester and western New York extensive visual information on the meaning of the war. By September, 1943, more than 60,000 persons had viewed these films which were supplied by agencies of the United States government and by American industries. By the time the film service was discontinued in June 1946, after four years of operation, it was estimated that approximately 250,000 persons had seen the films each year. 

The library staff provided new services for the 800 men of the Navy V-12 unit when it arrived on the River Campus in July of 1943, keeping the library open to 10 p.m. weekdays and providing some Sunday service. Considerable reference service was provided the naval students, and the reserve reading room, which had been closed because of staff shortages, was reopened for use as a study hall for the Navy men, under the supervision of Navy staff. More recreational reading was provided for the trainees, and the entire library building and its tower were regular ports of call for trainees when entertaining their families and friends on tours of the campus. The library was doing its best to make the young men feel welcome, and at one time, serious consideration was given to a plan for adapting the library's first floor reserve reading and lecture rooms for use as dormitory space. It was estimated that 300 men could be accommodated in those two library areas. 

The war years hurt the University budget and, in turn, the library budget. Staff salaries were not cut, but they were kept at such a low level that adequate and able staff could not be attracted to the library. There were repeated urgings from University administrators to limit expenses. Treasurer Raymond L. Thompson pleaded for a ten percent saving in operational costs, suggesting to employees to turn off lights, turn off faucets, turn off radiators, conserve paper (typing the file copy of an answer on the back of letter received), and when using the telephone, "cut your conversation short!" 

The library also was put to some strange and wonderful uses during the war. In September, 1943, a cafeteria was opened in the library basement in the area now occupied by the Education Library. The cafeteria advertised breakfast for 30 cents, lunch for 50 cents, and dinner for 75 cents. It also appealed for the business of special dinners and banquets. Much to the relief of the librarians who were grim about the cooking smells and the sight of cockroaches and rats who were attracted to the building, the cafeteria was closed in November, 1944. 

Considerable library space was devoted to experiments related to the war research program. The tower was used by the Psychology Department and by the Optics Department for lighting experiments. The Physics Department conducted some of its work in a third floor storeroom. The Optics shop moved into the library basement (and stayed there until the 1960's), and one psychology professor used an elevator shaft for his work on sea sickness. 

Another unusual tenant in the Library was one of the male librarians. For health reasons the librarian would not have been able to continue work in the library if he had to live off campus. Russell recommended to President Valentine that because the librarian was an essential employee and because of the extraordinary conditions created by the war, the librarian be allowed to live in a fifth floor study until some other space could be found for him. 

Most trying to the librarians may have been the operation of the University switchboard in tiny quarters, adjacent to the reserve reading room on the first floor of the library. Before the war, University authorities thought nothing of asking girls on the library staff to take turns operating the switchboard to relieve the regular operators on noon hours. During the war, however, they asked for more and more overtime work on the switchboard, and Russell's patience was strained. His solution, until the day this practice was abandoned, was to have the library girls operate the switchboard as part of their regular hours instead of on an overtime basis. 

Many of the librarians, of course, contributed much of their own time to the war effort. One of the projects in which several of them participated was to help harvest local farm crops. The late Arthur J. May, history professor and later University historian, often told about how a delegation of women librarians presented themselves for work at a tomato farm on which University professors had previously worked. According to Professor May, "The farmer eyed them warily and blurted out that he didn't know whether he ought to allow the ladies to gather his crops, because all his workers before had been Ph.D.'s!" 

In 1940, before the full impact of the war was felt, the total enrollment of the university was 5,366, with 660 men on the River Campus. The River Campus enrollment dropped to 483 in 1943 and to a low of 250 before the war was over. For many of these students who were to face induction into military service, accelerated programs were instituted and they were generally geared to standard undergraduate subjects. Candidates for graduate degrees declined sharply after Pearl Harbor. During the war, registration in the graduate schools sank to less than 300. In 1943, only seven Ph.Ds were conferred and they were all in the natural sciences. In 1944, seven doctorates were awarded in the sciences and one in music, and in 1945, only six of these degrees were conferred. While the pressures mounted on the library to provide supporting materials for the accelerated undergraduate programs, there was a lessening in the demand for materials to supply the needs of advanced research. 

In the late 1940's President Valentine pushed for increased faculty appointments in scholarly specialties with a view to preparing for new doctoral programs. The various faculties approved an increasing number of new and especially advanced courses, and there were additional pressures from the government, the military, and Rochester industries for research projects. By 1951 twenty-four Ph.D.'s were conferred, all in the sciences and music, however. But a doctoral program for history had been approved and there was a growth in graduate work in education, business and economics, and physics and engineering. In the academic year 1950-1951 thirty departments in the university were offering graduate work with 668 candidates enrolled, 415 in the master's program and 253 in the doctoral. The year 1950 marked the 100th anniversary of the university and it was noted by those interested in developing the graduate schools that only 2,423 Master's degrees and 310 doctorates had been awarded in those 100 years. 

All of this activity created acquisition and service problems for the library, problems which were to mount in their severity as the University broadened its horizons and expanded its curriculum throughout the 1950's. But first, Russell was concerned with the library's recovery from the effects of the war. The end of the conflict did bring some improvement in the availability of scholarly materials, especially foreign materials. Periodicals and monographs published during the war years and since the end of the war in Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, and the Netherlands arrived in increasing numbers. The Library of Congress made arrangements for the library to get from Germany back volumes of periodicals to which the library had subscribed during the war but had not received. An agent was engaged to make contacts throughout the European countries for other materials which were essential to a scholarly collection but which had been unobtainable. 

With the war over and his first ten years at the university coming to a close, Russell faced serious problems with library staffing and space. He had grappled with these problems during the war years, concentrating his efforts on raising the level of salaries, and creating new areas for the storage of books, especially in the women's college library. The increasing number of students, especially those attending University School sessions, put tremendous pressures on the facilities of the women's library. Russell urged that a campaign be started to obtain additions to the buildings, or to build completely new structures for the Women's College library, and for the art and the medical libraries. 

Another major problem that vexed Russell was that of binding the library's books. Since 1930 the library had operated its own bindery in the basement of Rush Rhees. As costs of labor and materials increased during the war years, it became apparent that it was not economical to run a bindery for the increased volume of University work. Russell closed the bindery in 1948, and gave the library's binding business to a commercial firm. 

During the forties Russell initiated new programs to improve the cultural aspect of the libraries. In the fall of 1945 he launched a new library publication, The University of Rochester Library Bulletin, which replaced the Fortnightly Bulletin, an essentially informational publication. The new bulletin, now in its twenty-fifth year, was edited by and written, in part, by Russell. Over the years the Bulletin contained scores of interesting articles based on the significant book and manuscript collections of the University libraries. Another of Russell's successful innovations was a weekly series of coffee hour discussions for students in the Welles-Brown Room. Books and current topics of interest were discussed by a series of prominent speakers, and refreshments were served. 

In Russell's first decade, the collections were expanded dramatically, despite the severe limitations imposed by the war. When Russell arrived in 1940 the University libraries had a total of 376,660 volumes in their combined collections. In 1950, the total was 514,575. The growth was carefully spread throughout the system. In 1940, Rush Rhees library had 216,133 volumes; in 1950, 296,190; the Women's College library grew from 60,033 to 86,227; the art library, from 8,062 to 11,556; the Sibley music library, from 45,200 to 63,578; the medical library, from 46,453 to 55,637; and the School of Nursing library, from 779 to 1,387. 

Russell's library budget also increased notably. In 1940-1941, the total budget was $108,838. Four years later the figure was up to $151,111, with $91,760 for salaries, $43,200 for books, $10,100 for binding, and $6,057 for other expenses. The 1950-1951 figures showed a total budget of $247,270, of which $150,364 was spent for salaries, $66,950 on books, and $14,100 on other expenses. 

Library History continued >>