Chapter 4 – A Period of Growth & Transition — 1869-1880

As the Civil War ended and the nation entered Reconstruction, the Illinois State Library was still experiencing slow growth. Problems were much the same as they had been for the last 25 years – holdings had barely increased, there was a crying need for space, and hardly anyone in state government recognized the value of the library. However, on March 5, 1867, the Illinois General Assembly passed a new law that put the library under the control of a commission of three state officers: the Governor, Secretary of State, and Superintendent of Public Instruction. The Secretary of State remained ex officio State Librarian, and continued to direct library administration and development. The additional commissioners made decisions on what books to purchase, advocated for the library with the legislature, and publicized and promoted the value of current library services. In 1874, the law was revised to make the Governor President of the Commission.75

Funding and staffing needs were also addressed. The commissioners were directed to appoint a librarian at a salary of $500 per year. In addition, the sum of $3,000 – far greater than any the library had seen since its original funding in 1839 – was appropriated for the purchase of books and materials for both 1867 and 1868. It now appeared that the library would at last take its rightful place among the best of state libraries, as more manpower and money were on the way. Unfortunately, it was an illusory victory. For reasons that remain unclear today, not a cent of the $6,000 appropriation was spent, and no additional staff was immediately hired. The holdings still consisted mainly of duplicate copies of laws and reports, and the collection of “miscellaneous works” remained stagnant. As the 1868 elections approached, the library was little changed.76

But those elections brought a change in philosophy. The newly elected Governor, John McAuley Palmer, who had earned household recognition as a major general in the Civil War, had a deep respect and appreciation for education and literature. But it was his Secretary of State, Edward Rummel, who had the greatest impact on the State Library in those years. The Bavarian-born Rummel was a successful printer by trade, and his experience with the printed word likely gave him an appreciation for the importance of the library. He soon put his practical knowledge and astute business sense to work in his duties as Secretary, finding ways to organize and index records while minimizing the substantial printing costs incurred by the office in that era. He quickly identified the library as one of his greatest assets, noting the role of Secretary of State as “custodian of this important and valuable department.”77

Clearly, the library had paid a price for years of sporadic attention, and Rummel inherited a collection in great disarray. He determined the selection to be “very incomplete,” and that “many books had been lost since the library was established.” Much of what remained was in poor condition. Rummel despaired that “many of the books had become worthless on account of continued hard usage” and were “in a dilapidated condition.” In addition to being “dilapidated,” dampness was also a threat. For years, the library room had been too small to accommodate all of the books, laws, and journals, and many were still housed in the basement, where they were subject to mold and mildew. Rummel remedied the situation by having “two (basement) rooms fitted up for the safekeeping” and kept fires constantly going in the basement in order to minimize the dampness and keep the materials dry. Another of Rummel’s first acts was to “immediately cause to be placed in the State Library room, a stand, which will be supplied with all of the leading papers of the West. This arrangement will supply a want long felt.”78

The General Assembly again appropriated $3,000 for book purchases in 1869 and 1870. This time, Rummel used the money to double the collection of miscellaneous works. On Jan. 15, 1870, the Chicago Tribune reported the arrival of “about a hundred volumes of miscellaneous works…a list [that] embraces many valuable works…and will be an addition to the small and depleted library of the State.” Less than three weeks later, the Tribune noted the arrival of another 125 volumes, again “comprising many valuable works.” The traditional practice of exchange with other states also continued. Rummel noted that the exchanges were “the means of keeping up a good supply of books in the State Library.” He also made a dedicated effort to rearrange and reclassify the books while publishing a new library catalog in 1869. The catalog listed holdings in detail, noting their location by alcove, division, and range. In compiling the new catalog, Rummel implored Springfield citizens “to look over their libraries, and if they find any books that belong to the State Library, to please return them…A number of very valuable works are missing, which cannot be replaced unless found and returned.” Although the 1870 catalog, 52 pages in length, did not employ such precision, its size clearly shows an increase in volumes resulting from the continued appropriation.79

By the end of 1870, gains in volumes, organization, and service were clear. In his first biennial report to Governor Palmer, Secretary Rummel reported a total of 2,536 miscellaneous works in the library, with 7,000 publications “of the United States, and of the different states.” Another 3,360 surplus copies of the latter were stored in the basement. The sum of 25,036 surplus copies of Illinois publications, laws, and reports were also sitting in the basement, with an additional 210 “duplicate and incomplete miscellaneous works” in the library room itself. In all, the library boasted 38,142 volumes, a dramatic increase from just a few years before.80

There seems to be an emphasis on acquiring historical works during this period. Rummel lamented the fact that “no complete history of the State of Illinois” was in the library, as a copy of an acclaimed work by former Governor Thomas Ford “disappeared years ago.” However, steps were being taken to fill this void in a big way, as Rummel reported that the library commissioners had arranged for the purchase of 100 copies of the History of Illinois from 1778 to 1833; and the Life and Times of Ninian Edwards, the third Governor of Illinois and written by his son, also named Ninian. Rummel was also allowed to hire some staff during this period, including Civil War veteran George Ruhland as clerk, mentioned along with Rummel in the 1869 catalog. The Secretary was also joined by his brother, Rudolph, who briefly served in some capacity as librarian until the latter’s death from consumption in November 1870.81

Still, Rummel knew the library lagged behind those of other states. He reported to Governor Palmer that, “the library is yet far from being what a State, occupying the position of Illinois, should have,” and requested “a liberal appropriation” for the purchase of more books. But Rummel’s pleas fell on deaf legislative ears when, once again, no appropriation was made. Part of the reason was lack of space; there simply was no room for more books, and the legislature still did not display a consistent appreciation for the value of the library. In his 1872 biennial report, Rummel stated that “but few books have been purchased,” and additions “have mainly been made by means of the usual exchanges between this and the other states.” The $500 annual appropriation of 1865 provided slight relief, and a little extra money came in from the continued sale of surplus copies of state publications, but the total number of miscellaneous works only grew by 14 volumes between 1870 and 1872. As a result, Rummel determined there was no need to publish a new catalog.82

However, Rummel’s 1872 report did show glimpses of future promise. Under Palmer’s direction, a number of surplus books were donated to “various library associations and educational institutions” across the state. Many donations must have been made, as the number of surplus Illinois publications dropped from over 25,000 to an estimated 20,000, with the total number of United States publications falling to 3,000, leaving the library with a reported 32,750 volumes. The unprecedented donation shows Palmer’s devotion to the dissemination of information. This was one of the library’s earliest efforts to have as one of its primary functions the distribution of reading materials to the citizens of Illinois.83

In addition, Rummel also wanted to expand the library’s system of book exchange with other libraries, which he described as “sadly deficient in one respect.” That was the exchange of books with foreign countries, a practice that at least 16 other state libraries had embraced. Rummel envisioned an even exchange of books published by the state of Illinois with other nations, including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and other European countries. He noted that the only direct expense would be shipping, as tariffs did not apply to books sent to public libraries, and he urged the legislature to establish some means of exchange between Illinois and other countries. It was some years before the General Assembly heeded Rummel’s words, but that system of international exchange continues as a hallmark of the State Library today.84

Rummel served only one term as Secretary, as he was subsequently defeated for re-election. But his legacy as one of the most devoted Secretaries of State to the role of the library was clear and, fortunately for the state, his immediate successor, George Harlow, shared his devotion.85