The Library Act of 1848

The Illinois General Assembly failed to provide Cooley with an assistant, but helped that same year to further the development of the young library. On Jan. 27, 1847, the General Assembly passed an act that set forth a number of administrative rules by which the library would be governed for many years. The act required the Secretary of State to dispose of surplus copies of laws and statutes and to use the proceeds from any sales of those volumes to buy new books for the library. The act also directed the Secretary to ensure that all books loaned from the library be returned “on or before the second Monday” of the regular legislative session and, in turn, make a report to the session on the condition of the library and what holdings had been added or lost. This included a declaration of any persons who were charged for not having returned books. For his trouble, the Secretary was to receive “not more than one hundred dollars” per year for his library duties.41

And, for the first time, the Secretary was to publish a catalogue of all “books, pamphlets, maps, etc.” in the library and distribute copies to all members of the legislature. Printed library catalogs date back to the 17th century but by the mid-1800s were still rare in America. The establishment of an Illinois State Library catalog was quite a step indeed and yet another method of improved organization. Interestingly, the act also took upon itself to declare that certain books, including the Natural History of the State of New York and The History of the Exploring Expedition, should not leave the library room, acknowledging their great value and effectively making them reference works.42

More than anything else, the act proved beneficial for years to come by providing a more specific definition of how the library was to be run. The sale of surplus volumes of state laws and statutes brought in badly needed funds to purchase new books, while the required report to the General Assembly facilitated better communication and awareness of the library by that body. The act improved library governance, rules, and financing and was a watershed moment in the early history of the State Library.43