Chapter 3 – The Early Years — 1840 to 1850

While the Illinois State library now had a permanent home, a fairly strong collection, and some backing from the legislature, not all officials showed serious commitment to the new library. The early years of the institution were marked by indifference by some Secretaries of State and a lack of dedication to its needs by the legislature. As it turned out, many of the concerns voiced in this period lingered for decades.

While Illinois had reason to be proud of its new State Library, the Prairie State was still behind when it came to its neighboring state libraries. Ohio’s state library founding in 1817 was marked by a healthy purchase of books by the governor, who wanted to rival libraries found in the states and cities of the East. Ohio appointed a permanent librarian, and by 1823, the collection numbered 1,700 volumes. The state library of Indiana followed with its founding in 1825. Like Illinois, the Indiana Secretary of State was ex officio State Librarian until 1841, when Indiana appointed an official State Librarian.35

Michigan and Iowa established libraries even before gaining statehood. Michigan’s library dated to 1828 and Iowa’s to 1837. Both institutions had a fulltime librarian on staff. Like Indiana, whose capital had moved from Corydon to Indianapolis in the days of the library’s infancy, Iowa’s library had moved through three territorial and state capitals before settling in Des Moines.36

In Illinois, the Secretary of State had no library staff, and its library was poorly developed. But the enterprise did take up a substantial portion of the Secretary’s time, as subsequent Secretaries attested. In addition, some Secretaries were more devoted to the library than others. Lyman Trumbull was among the latter. Although an 1841 letter of Trumbull to his brother claims an enthusiastic endorsement to the future of the library, in reality Trumbull gave little concern to library administration. His successor, Thompson Campbell, inherited a library with congressional documents “in such promiscuous confusion as to be of little or no service,” and with no system of cataloging or indexing in place.37

During his term, Campbell, who had no library assistant, worked diligently to restore order to the poorly catalogued and sloppy storage of the library materials and apparently did a fine job. His successor, Horace S. Cooley, reported to the General Assembly in 1847 that “we are much indebted to my predecessor, for the systematic order in which we now find” the congressional documents that were often sought after by the legislative patrons.38

Cooley also took his library responsibilities seriously and may be credited with considerable gains during his three and a half years of service. Although the holdings numbered only a few hundred, increase in congressional documents was steady. There was also a constant exchange of volumes of laws and statutes with other states. This was common practice of the time and helped the library collection grow, but further added to the strain on the Secretary’s time. Serving library patrons also added to his burden, as did the need for continuing the organization of the collection initiated by Campbell.39

In his 1847 report, Secretary Cooley issued one of the earliest written recommendations for more library manpower. He asserted that “the State Library [claimed] a large share of the time and attention” of his office. “To preserve [Campbell’s] order and arrange the documents of succeeding sessions in the same manner,” declared Cooley, “[and] to attend to the increase of the Library from the reception of laws and documents from the other States, it will soon be absolutely necessary to provide by law, for the appointment of an assistant librarian, in order to secure that attention to the library which its importance demands.”40