A Time of Stagnation

As the 1850s progressed, the library grew steadily, with definite signs of broadened development. Legislators began to recognize their increasing need for reference works. The Senate Sergeant-at-Arms was directed to procure reference books for the Senate chamber, demonstrating once again that the lawmakers wanted a library of their own, with ready convenience. Downstairs the library boasted 1,036 miscellaneous works, which were too many for available storage. As a result, the General Assembly appropriated $900 – a princely sum in those days – for the secretary to build shelving and “glass cases in which to keep the most valuable works.” Another $900 was appropriated for the secretary to re-do his office and the library room as the State Library was showing obvious wear from steady use. By 1860, State Library patrons could also admire a glass-encased display of a “stand of arms presenting the various forms of weapons in use,” a reflection of the frontier state of the Midwest in the era.69

David Gregg was succeeded in office by Alexander Starne, a career state politician, who continued many of the same practices of obtaining books for the library. The exchanges with other states brought in large quantities of books, while the sale of surplus copies remained an additional source of revenue. Meanwhile the legislature approved, albeit sporadically, at least small appropriations for book purchases. The sum of $500 for book purchases was appropriated in both 1855 and 1856. Occasionally, the Secretary took it upon himself to buy certain other volumes in demand as well. In 1854 Starne used a trip to Boston as an opportunity to purchase a few books – or, perhaps, the other way around – with a charge to the state of $50 for the trip.70

As a result, the miscellaneous collection grew noticeably during the decade. In his 1857 report, Starne declared that the library numbered “about fourteen hundred volumes,” including “about four hundred volumes [that] were purchased by me with the funds derived from the sale of the statutes and the appropriation made by the last general assembly.” A balance of $214.64 remained unexpended. Starne’s report also provides a look into the type of holdings the library offered, which were very much in line with the popular readings of the day. The Life and Works of John Adams was among the additions, as were “nine volumes of Jefferson’s works” and six more volumes of the ever-popular History of the Exploring Expedition. Professor Owen’s Geological Survey of Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota and four volumes of The Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge added to the scientific emphasis, while five volumes of the Colonial History of New York helped increase historical awareness.71

Patrons also had the use of library newspapers and periodicals, including Silliman’s Journal and Hunt’s Merchant’s Magazine, two popular general-interest publications of the day costing $10 per two-year subscription. Indeed, the reader in the State Library had access to works then usually found only in private libraries or purchased in general stores, or in the growing number of bookstores springing up in the frontier.72

Still, library development remained much slower than desired. Starne repeated his predecessor’s pleas nearly word for word, imploring legislators for money, pointing out that Illinois lagged behind “our sister states” in their library collections. Space continued to be a pressing need. The Committee on the State Library, organized to study its needs, was chaired by Calvin Goudy, a doctor and noted publisher in Jacksonville and Taylorville. Goudy was also a strong proponent of education in the state. His committee recommended the Secretary use one of the still-unfinished committee rooms in the Capitol basement as a “part and parcel of the State Library rooms,” fitting up the room with proper shelving for storage of the surplus copies. Goudy’s report also echoed the Secretary’s calls for the legislature to appropriate more money for book purchases. In addition, the library still lacked permanent staff. Periodically, the legislature appropriated $4 to $5 per day for a “library clerk” while the General Assembly was in session, but otherwise, library duties fell largely on the Secretary.73

Starne was succeeded by Ozias Hatch, a prominent politician who enjoyed a close friendship with Lincoln. The library did not experience exceptional growth during Hatch’s eight years in office. Part of this was undoubtedly due to the Civil War, which drained state money and manpower. Hatch was followed by Sharon Tyndale, whose four years in office witnessed continued lack of library development, with the exception of one first – the publication of a small library catalog in 1866, the earliest known catalog ever published by the library. After nearly two decades of lackluster growth, an infusion of new leadership in the 1870s and 1880s would bring the Illinois State Library closer to its potential.74