Library Growth

Secretary of State Horace Cooley, who had been among the most effective of the early ex officio State Librarians, died in office on April 2, 1850, never seeing some of his visions become reality. His successor, David Gregg, however, demonstrated a keen interest in the continued growth of the institution and its collection. The legislature continued to make good use of the library, becoming dependent enough to want library books even closer to its upstairs chambers. On Jan. 16, 1851, the Senate directed the Sergeant-at-Arms to “procure a book case” in which to keep books and statutes “under the care of said doorkeeper.” This adjunct library was to be located in the legislative chamber, which would save the lawmakers the walk downstairs to the library. The legislators, while acknowledging the demand for the books by other readers, kept their own convenience foremost in mind.55

The main library continued to grow, albeit rather slowly. Gregg was able to make an impact in the growth of the collection with the proceeds of the continued sale of surplus copies, which enabled him to buy 113 books, bringing the total in the miscellaneous collection to 1,036. Donations also continued, including 10 volumes of the Annals of Congress, two volumes of the Documentary History of New York, and two volumes of the Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge, a gift from that institution. The exchange of laws from other states continued, and Gregg reported to the General Assembly in 1853 that such “copies, when in pamphlet, have been bound, and appropriately stamped, so as to secure their preservation and safe keeping.”56

In the same report, Gregg also noted that only two books had been lost. One, Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, disappeared “on or about the seventeenth day of February, 1851.” He further stated that some multivolume works had “been rendered valueless” by the loss of one or more volumes and found that “works of fiction seem to have been far more liable to abstraction of destruction than those of a more solid and useful description.” Gregg’s belief would indicate that fictional works seemed to have a higher demand, giving an indication of the patrons’ reading interest. He did, though, absolve himself of any responsibility for the losses, stating that they “occurred before the library came under my care.” On the positive side, the purchase of Mitchell’s Universal Atlas, “a most valuable and convenient work,” was deemed a great addition to the collection. In sum, Gregg stated, the “whole number of volumes in the library, including duplicates, as well as multiplied copies of our own laws” was “not far from 9,562.”57

Space to hold these works was becoming an issue. The library room was too small to accommodate all the holdings, and by now books were scattered in storage across the Capitol. Gregg reported that “a large number are necessarily deposited in other rooms, in remote parts of the building, not conveniently accessible.” As a result, wrote Gregg, “some provision appears to be necessary either for a new arrangement of the present library room, or for procuring one somewhat larger and more commodious.” Similarly, he noted that “few maps have been procured, for the reason that there was no fit place provided for placing them.” A new, larger library space was a generation away, and the library room in the Old State Capitol continued to serve despite cramped conditions.58