ALBANY, Feb. 26.-- The State of New York has the finest library of any State in the Union. At a modest estimate the contents are worth $500,000. On Sept. 30 last there were in the library 134,394 bound volumes, besides thousands of pamphlets and tens of thousands of manuscripts, constituting a vast storehouse of legal and historical learning. The manner in which this treasure is sheltered is a curiosity in the treatment of great libraries, a disgrace to the State, and a triumph in the art of cheese-paring practised spasmodically by the Legislature.
In a memorial to the present Legislature calling attention to the pressing need of suitable quarters for this great and noble collection, "the fruit of the enlightened liberality of three generations, sustained by the wise beneficence of successive Legislatures, enriched by rare contributions from all quarters of the globe," the Regents of the University, who are the Trustees of the State Library, have this to say of the circumstances which led to the library occupying its present quarters, and of the quarters themselves.
The library was already beginning to suffer from lack of room, when in 1883 the growth of the new Capitol rendered it necessary to clear the ground of the old State Library Building. In the summer of that year the trustees of the library were notified that the demolition of the old building had been decided upon, and the permanent rooms had been set apart in the new Capitol which should at once be fitted up in a suitable manner for the reception of the library. In the meantime and until these new quarters could be prepared for the reception of the library, rooms in different parts of the building were hastily made ready for the temporary storage of the several collections. The books of the general library were arranged with some attempt at order on shelving put up in the abandoned Court of Appeals chamber; the books of the law library in a similar manner in the golden corridor, which was then and is still used as a passage-way from the east to the west sides of the Capitol. The large and invaluable collection of duplicates of the library (numbering not less than 75,000 volumes) were stored in rooms in the vaults of the Capitol, where they still lie, wholly inaccessible and suffering irreparable damage from intense heat, dampness, and other causes. The great collection of manuscripts was distributed among several custodians, some portions of it in the southwest pavilion of the Capitol, others in dark store-rooms connected with the temporary quarters of the general and law libraries, very many of them for the time being practically useless and some of them of the greatest value being lost, damaged, and destroyed.
The statement of the Regents is a conservative one. In its present quarters the general library is cramped and crowded. The "reading-room" consists of a space or aisle 10 feet wide on one side of the big room. In this there are six small tables. The law library is in a public corridor, attractive enough in its decoration to be one of the show places of the Capitol. There is no room in which to display the important collection of casts, portraits, and similar treasures belonging to the State Library and now stored in the attic. High temperature is believed to have already greatly injured the collections of duplicates stored in the basement, the great value of which is thus referred to by the Regents in their memorial:
"These (duplicates) consist for the most part of session laws, Senate and Assembly documents, and other publications of our own and other States, and when once destroyed can never be replaced. An important, if not the most important, source of the growth of a great library like that of the State is the system of exchanges with individuals, Governments, and other libraries, and the material for these exchanges is the library of duplicates to which reference has been made. When these are stored in inaccessible quarters this system is hampered and the natural growth of the library is checked. When these are destroyed the system ceases to operate and the natural development of the library from this source comes to an end. In the case of our own collection of duplicates the former state of affairs has long existed, and the latter can be avoided only by speedy action on the part of the Legislature."
In the general library are books worth, literally speaking, almost if not quite their weight in gold. Among them are some very rare and curious. The library has a nearly complete set of the early Jesuit Relations. It also contains the famous Usselincx manuscripts, including 404 pages of papers and reports of Willem Usselincx for the period from 1614 to 1646; Ptolemy's Geography of 1611; a collection of Japanese books presented by Dr. David Murray, and one of the best and most complete collections extant of books relating to the civil war.
In the four years that have elapsed since the library was thrust into its present quarters over 14,000 volumes have been added to the collection by gifts.
"In the meantime," say the Regents, "the books in both departments of the library are suffering serious damage from the heat and dust to which many of them in their present quarters are necessarily exposed, the public who use the library are subjected to daily and hourly inconvenience, the work of caring for the collections is enormously increased and unsatisfactorily and uneconomically performed, and a much-needed reorganization of the library force which has long been in contemplation is compelled to wait from year to year, to the great detriment of the work which the institution is called upon to perform."
To complete the quarters designed for the State Library would require, according to the plans and estimates prepared by Capitol Commissioner Perry, $125,000 in money, and not more than two months' time. Mr. Perry's plans provided for a noble home for the State Library. The library and Regents will occupy the third and fourth floors and attic of the entire western section of the building, except three rooms on the fourth floor given up to the Board of Claims. The Regents have three rooms on the third floor and a like number on the fourth. The grand western staircase, which when completed will be one of the finest pieces of architecture around the Capitol, leads directly up to the main entrance to the library, and two elevators will also take the visitor or student to the third or fourth floor in that section of the building. The main entrance opens into the general reading-room, a magnificent room 73 by 42 feet and 52 feet high, being carried up through the fourth story. At the two ends of this room are two tiers of galleries supported on clusters of red granite columns and freestone arches of the same color, and a gallery stretches across the east side. In this room there will be shelving for 16,000 volumes. South of the reading-room and adjoining it is a stack-room 27 x 30 feet, divided by perforated iron floors into three stories 7 feet 3 inches high. In these stand the bookshelves, made of galvanized iron and supported on iron stanchions. By the use of mezzanine floors in a corridor on the east, and in another room 15 x 30 feet on the south, shelving is provided for 55,488 volumes.
Directly over the last-named rooms and corridor in the fourth story is a room 45 x 48 feet by 26 feet high, with an open space 15 x 24 feet in the ceiling for the admission of light through the glazed roof for lighting the centre of the room, and for the accommodation of the iron stairs, which start from.the floor in the centre of the book-room and extend up to the attic floor, with landings on each of the intermediate floors. This book-room, as now planned, has a capacity of 136,488 volumes, making the total capacity of the general library 207,976 volumes.
The law library is at the north side of the reading-room, occupying on the third floor all the space between the reading-room and the north wall of the Capitol and also a room en the fourth floor. Mezzanine floors give additional room, space being provided for 95,000 volumes of law books. The law library rooms are nearly complete, and so are the stack-rooms for the general library. In both the shelving is in its place. The bookcases in the law library are made of quartered oak, richly designed in panel-work, with a moderate amount of well-executed carving. The ceilings and walls of two of the rooms are painted and decorated.
In the great reading-room, lighted by six windows, part of the stonework is already in place and much of the stone yet to be set is cut and on the ground. If completed according to Mr. Perry's plans it will be one of the handsomest rooms in the Capitol. The whole attic of the western section is to be used as part of the library. It is 35 feet high and well lighted in its central part by a glazed roof. The north and south sections of the attic are each 53 feet square and lighted by ordinary windows, the view from which will be one of the sights of the Capitol.
For three years work on these rooms has been at a standstill, and the library has been ... confined in quarters never intended and entirely unsuited for it. The need of new rooms, if the library is to be preserved and of use to students, is urgent. With an appropriation of $125,000 it can be speedily given a new home. Delay means further serious deterioration of the library and continued arrest of the natural development of this great and valuable collection.
Among the members of the Board of Regents are such well-known editors as George William Curtis of Harper's Weekly, who is Vice-Chancellor; Whitelaw Reid of the New-York Tribune; Charles E. Fitch of the Rochester Democrat-Chronicle; Sinclair McKelway of the Brooklyn Eagle; Willard Cobb of the Lockport Journal, and Carroll E. Smith of the Syracuse Journal. The bare suggestion that not one of them has the slightest influence with members of the Legislature from his own locality would doubtless cause acute pain in the region where the coronal service begins to decline toward the back head, and a little above the posterior angle of the parietal bones, such is the sensitiveness of the average editor. But should the Legislature adjourn without granting so necessary an appropriation, it would be a fair inference that this aggregation of newspaper talent is lacking in the first principles of practical politics, is without honor even in the legislative body whose members owe their elevation so largely to the newspapers. If the editors, conscious of their own weaknesses, should call into service the experience and persuasive eloquence of such fellow-Regents as Chauncey M. Depew, ex-State Senator Hamilton Harris, (than whom no more skilled logroller lives,) Chancellor Henry R. Pierson, ex-United States Senator Francis Kernan, and ex-Attorney-General Leslie W. Russell---if this combination would give a long pull, a strong pull, and a pull all together, what Legislature would refuse a paltry $125,000? Having satisfied himself that there was no politics in it, how could our Governor, generous patron of arts, music, billiards, and learning that he is, consistently refuse to sanction the expenditure of this sum?
Wow. The Board of New York State Regents does sound kind of top-heavy with newspapermen, doesn't it?
Court of Appeals.