New York State Library 82nd Annual Report, 1899, (1901) page 62:
The capitol walls are so massive that we have no fear of fire except as it might burn out individual rooms finished in wood. Hundreds of thousands of feet of oak have been used in shelving and interior finish, and in spite of careful installation of electric wires, we can not avoid the fear that some day this woodwork in some room will be accidentally set on fire and priceless material destroyed. The scientific explanation of how the fire occurred may be perfect, but the fact that rats or mice gnawed off insulation or that workmen accidentally broke it with their saws (as has happened a score of times in the past dozen years) might tell how it happened, but would not replace our lost treasures. Till we have a fireproof building, free from this danger, we must take the chances with ordinary books; but we have various treasures so costly that their destruction would cause serious criticism of the regents as trustees for not insisting on better protection than is now available, e. g. an autograph collector recently declared that our autographs of the signers of the declaration of independence were worth $20,000, In our manuscript room are collections which have cost the state vast sums and which money could not replace, yet there is no place to keep them except a room honeycombed with oak and interlaced with electric wires.
There are two solutions for adequate protection till the new building is ready : we may buy a large iron safe for the smallest and most costly collections; or better, take some small room, possibly in the basement if dampness can be thoroughly protected against (as it could be by making double walls with ventilation) and make a room strictly fireproof, without electric wires and large enough to hold all the rarities. A basement room would practically shut them off from public inspection, though they could be reached for occasional use. In the northwest pavilion it would be possible to make at comparatively small cost a fireproof room with ample daylight, open to visitors and yet safe from fire. From year to year other pressing needs have led us to defer this request, but we ought not to go longer without a large fireproof safe or fire-proof room. For lack of it we are liable to lose valuable gifts that would be put in our custody except for fear of fire.
Care of rooms.
During Gov. Flower's administration attention was called to the frequent losses in the state library and the subject was carefully considered by the superintendent of public buildings, representatives of the regents and the governor. It was found that the peculiar character of a great library was recognized the world over in unusual safeguards. In colleges and universities, where many janitors and cleaners have access to all ordinary rooms, it is customary to set apart the library as distinct, with locks to which there are few keys and none in the hands of the ordinary janitorial force. In other words, the library in its nature is a great safe for storing many things of large pecuniary value, which could be easily removed if the rooms were treated like other parts of the buildings. The superintendent declared it impossible for him or any one in his position with a great force constantly changing, many of the men coming from a distance and little known, to afford proper protection to the great collections of the library. Examination of cost by both systems made it clear that it would be economy to separate the library from the rest of the building and put its janitors under direct charge of the regents, who were responsible, as trustees, for safety of its property. As the rooms were so connected that it was impracticable to lock off the regents office, and as the regents examinations themselves required extreme vigilance, these were included with those transferred from the superintendent.
Experience has confirmed the wisdom of the action. At less cost we have secured better results and there has been marked improvement since access to the library has been so closely limited. The old locks were removed and at present there are only four keys, one for the head janitor, one for the night watchman, one carefully locked in the building for emergencies and one held by the director. Not even the senior librarians have a key to the rooms as either the janitor, night watchman or one of the staff is on duty and responsible for every person who passes the doors at any hour. Without this absolute control of the rooms, it would be simply impossible to afford proper protection to the many costly books in our great collection. Under the old system, losses were not due to lack of interest on the part of persons who had keys but to lack of appreciation of the dangers. Some visitor to gratify a laudable curiosity would ask to have the doors unlocked and to be admitted for a few minutes to see the library. Both visitor and janitor were perfectly trustworthy, but through the door thus opened sneak thieves, who have caused so much trouble in this building, would slip in and secreting themselves in alcoves or small rooms would have opportunity for petty thefts. Fortunately we had no very large losses, but the new system relieves most of this difficulty.
As we review the year we find that we are sharing the experience of all active great libraries. Each year we feel the pressure both for more room, a larger staff to meet the reasonable demands made on us, and for more books, because more books are printed than ever before and people insist as never before on having what they wish and need and will not be put off with some substitute printed perhaps years before the book they really want to see. Experience has proved that it pays to assist readers in a way not thought of a generation ago and the patrons of the state library naturally demand such assistance. All this adds to necessary expenses ; but, on the other hand, the extent and spirit of the service given calls out warm public appreciation of the large practical returns from taxpayers' money wisely and economically expended on what is becoming more truly each year the real people's university.
82nd Annual Report, 1899. page 60:
Pursuant to the direction embodied in -the resolution adopted by your honorable body [Assembly] on the 6th day of February, 1899, viz :
Resolved, That the superintendent of public buildings be and he is hereby directed to ascertain and report to this house, with all convenient speed, as to the adequacy of that portion of the state capitol assigned to the use and occupancy of the state library, for its present needs and its probably future requirements.
I have ascertained and hereby respectfully report the following facts.
That the portion of the state capital used and occupied by the state library comprises 64,553 square feet of floor surface, in addition to considerable space in the capital corridors adjacent to said library used and occupied for the exhibition of Indian relics, hydraulic and electrical machinery, photographs of school buildings, etc.
From the fact that of the abovementioned 64,553 square feet of floor surface, 4,000° square feet is devoted to the storage of books, in cases, it is self-evident that there is not sufficient shelf room for said books,* [*This refers to the books boxed up in cases in the basement and it fails to mention those stored over the assembly chamber and in other parts of the attic story. Altogether there are now more than 150,000 volumes nailed up and inaccessible for lack of shelf room,] and as I am informed and believe that these books are accumulating rapidly, it is fair to assume that some arrangements for their accommodation will have to be made in the very near future.
It should be borne in mind that if the location of the state library is changed from its present quarters, all the metal shelving, book cases, elaborate carving, and special appliances, extending, as they do, through two or more stories, with numerous galleries, must be removed and the regular floor levels of the building carried through the space they now occupy, to adapt those quarters to other purposes; and that but an inconsiderable proportion of such fixtures and appurtenances could be utilized elsewhere.
H. H. Bender
Supt. Public Buildings