The Averill Building had been a convenient location, in the very heart of the business district, but now the city was expanding and growing away from the river. The Library must move with the population. Mr. Fitzhugh found a suitable lot on the west side of Washington Street. It could be purchased on time and the price was reasonable. The Library could afford to pay the interest on the purchase if the City Council would make the down payments. The Building Committee waited on the council and explained the plan. It was the first time the council had been asked to assume any responsibility for the Library and they were unwilling to act. They finally refused to consider it at all and the Building Committee so reported to the Joint Library Committee. Not discouraged, the chairman soon had another idea. There was an even better lot on the east side of Washington, just 200 feet south of Center Street. It belonged to H. Eickemeyer, the leading building contractor. Mr. Eickemeyer was interviewed and was persuaded that he would find it profitable to put up a building, a simple one such as the committee desired, and rent it to the Library Committee at a yearly rental of $250.00. The Library Committee thought this an excellent plan. They would have their building, practically, and they would not have to go into debt. They could afford the rent, and the City Council would not have to be consulted. A formal contract was signed by Mr. Eickemeyer and the Library Committee and work was at once started on the building. Soon the “new library” was completed, everything according to agreement, the books and furniture were moved in, and the Librarian and staff of two, were ready for business. This was March 25, 1879, and they had been in the Averill Building eight busy years.
It was a sensible little building. On entering the door, a patron saw before him a large room with bookcases, tables and lamps, and curtained windows. Between him and this large room was a counter-like desk of black walnut. Usually a customer transacted his business at this desk with no need to enter the large room where the books were shelved. If he had good reason to go to the shelves, the Librarian opened a little gate at the end of the counter and let him through.
The room was heated in winter by a base burner coal stove and Henry Sims was still the janitor. Japanese matting covered the floor; the chairs and tables were stained to correspond with the walnut desk. The Thorwaldsen pictures in their walnut frames hung on the walls of the vestibule, which was that part of the room between the entrance and the desk. To the person entering the Library, the effect was tasteful and comfortable. No one needed to be ashamed of the Bay City Public Library.
If he has had library experience, it is interesting to one reading the records to see how much interest these early board members had in the library and how much responsibility they took. To their minds a catalogue was a prime necessity. Even back in the Sheriff’s office they had been worried by the lack of one. Lists of books made by the Librarian were not permanently useful. They were never up to date. The Librarian could not be expected to know all the books even when the stock consisted of only a few hundred volumes. There must be some record for the Librarian to rely on, of authors, titles, subjects and pertinent information about the books. It must be readily accessible, an ever present help. So they started a manuscript for a printed catalogue. In fact they started several times and produced manuscripts that the test of usage proved incompetent, and they discarded them. The long counter-like desk in the Eickemeyer building which effectively kept the mass of the public away from the books and emphasized the need of a catalogue. So did a ruling of the committee that a borrower must hand the Librarian a requisition slip when he wanted a book. Patrons were required to write the author’s name and the title of the book, or the subject of the book and the name of an author who had written on the subject. He was then to hand the slip to the Librarian. But little information got written on these slips. The patron seemed to lose his memory when confronted with this piece of red tape and unashamedly put the whole responsibility on the Librarian, who therefore had to have a catalogue. Fortunately, just at this time, Mr. Fitzhugh came across the catalogue of the library of Quincy, Massachusetts. He was greatly impressed by it, showed it to the other members of the committee, who felt as he did. The collection at Quincy was very much the same sort of collection as Bay City was aiming to have. At the next meeting of the Board, Mr. Barber moved the Board adopt the Quincy catalogue as the model for the one they wished to produce, and that Mr. Fitzhugh be made the superintendent of the catalogue and be authorized to pay an expert helper to prepare the manuscript. In about a year the catalogue was ready for the printer and the Board asked for bids from the printers of the city to put it into book form. The contract was awarded to McMillan and Harding, publishers of the Evening Observer. They soon had it printed and ready for distribution. The Board agreed on the price of a dollar per copy, advertised it well in the papers, and had copies of it piled high on the library counter-desk and then awaited with interest the reaction of the public to their great effort.
Very few copies were sold. People who had been keenly interested in having a public library were not prepared to give money to a public institution for any purpose whatever, even to buy a catalogue. The Board waited thinking that the next time the patrons came, after seeing the catalogue, they would have an extra dollar with them and would buy. But they did not. A thousand copies had been ordered. They were kept in plain sight for a number of months and then the Librarian resignedly shelved them and they remained on the shelves while one generation and then another grew up and passed on. Finally when the library after many years moved into its new building, the remainder of the catalogues were sold for waste paper, except a few copies, which were kept as a memento of the Board’s great experiment.
The Board members who had authorized and superintended the catalogue were keenly disappointed. For years they had put their best efforts into it, they had spent their own and later library’s funds to bring it into being, they had done their best and their best was not appreciated. Through the years copies were sold, of course, but so few that the sums realized were “paltry” as one of the committee said, in comparison with the expense and the effort they had put in to it. For years, in the Librarian’s report of funds received monthly, there was always the item “Catalogues sold”, $3.00 or $2.00 or even $1.00. But in time, even the staff forgot the Library had a printed catalogue.
In some ways, the Board could see that though the catalogue did not sell yet it accomplished good. The circulation of fiction, especially the poorer sort declined, the use of informative books increased, instances of patrons who borrowed elementary books on a subject and then kept on with the subject through more and more difficult books became more frequent, and there were increasing calls for books on related subjects. The patrons obtained from the catalog the information they were using in making out their requisition slips. They used it continually in the library. The desk copies of it were worn out and replaced many times, but buy it they did not.
The catalogue, however, was an excellent book of its kind, a good and useful reference work. The biographical notes on the authors contained just the information wanted, subjects were treated in a practical, informative, attractive way, cross references were designed to lead people to read further, to make them aware of all the books the library had, related to the subject in which they were interested. All this was excellent, but bringing into the same index with the books, the whole magazine collection of the Library, this was good service indeed. Another useful feature was printing the contents of each book mentioned and listing the magazine articles on the same subjects. Poole’s Index, the slender first edition, had been published but was not known outside a few of the great libraries, none of the Wilson guides existed. It would seem that the librarian, the staff, and the public must have been dependent on the catalogue in a way we cannot understand. It was odd that they did not noise abroad its virtues.
To get an idea of the catalogue, consider the manner in which it treated the subject of ENGLAND. The reader, that is the reader who read for his own pleasure, is advised to cover the subject in a general way by reading, first one of the great general histories, such as Knight’s, Lingard’s, or Hume’s, then to enjoy it, by studying it in its episodes of which they explain eight as being of particular interest; the Norman Conquest, the Crusades, War of the Roses, the Reformation, the reign of Elizabeth, the restoration and the reign of Anne. The “episodes” are outlined and lists are given of the biographies, historical novels, and criticism and related magazine articles which cover them. This is surely helpful guidance. To take another example, if a reader were looking up a practical article such as SALT. He is referred to the article on Salt and Lumber in the Tenth Census of the United States. Also to the salt and lumber statistics in the Bay City Directory for 1866-67, also to the article entitled Salt Interest in the Saginaw Valley in the Michigan Pioneer Collection; that is the catalogue covers all the material the Library had on the subject, whether in books, pamphlets, or government documents.
Looking through the catalogue seventy years after, we are of course struck by omissions. Why did not they give the Industrial Revolution as one of the episodes of English history that was of particular interest? The answer is because that subject had not yet retreated to the background where it could be seen in perspective and was not yet interesting to writers. Why are only the derogative articles listed under Charles Darwin? Because articles accepting his philosophy were not being written at the time. As far as it goes this effort of the Library Committee was thoroughly good. It is the greatest effort the Library has ever made, and a most creditable one.
But the effort came too late. The day of printed catalogues for general libraries had almost passed. Card catalogs were coming in. The Library had one, or rather, the Librarian kept lists on cards of titles, subjects, authors, but did not dignify it by calling it a catalogue. The Library of Congress started using printed cards, and soon made them available at a nominal price to all libraries. These cards had much bibliographical information on them, they were accurate and they could be used in many ways by trained librarians. By their use a catalogue could be kept up to date with the library’s acquisitions. The administrators of our library did not realize that the Library of Congress cards would soon make obsolete any catalogue in book form for a public library. This fact did not strike them until they had had two printed supplements to the original catalogue made, and had again been grievously disappointed by the failure of the public to buy.
While we are still dealing with the group of men who for many years represented the library idea in Bay City, we must record one of the manifestations of that idea which seems to us of a later day, decidedly quaint. Mr. Cox Cooke, who really collected books in a big way and was the only professional bibliophile on the board, presented a resolution at a regular meeting, which would have made the time for which a book could be issued, dependent on its size. For example, a folio book, which was the largest size, could be kept out for a month; a folio being a book for which the standard sized book paper had been folded only once to make a page. Following this idea, a quarto book, for which the paper had been folded four times, might be kept out three weeks. An octavo book, for which the paper had been folded eight times, might be kept two weeks, and the duodecimo books, in which the paper had been folded twelve times to make a page, could be kept only one week. Doubtless it gave some of the trustees satisfaction to bring into the ordinary library world these high sounding words of the book collector and book trade. The Librarian was directed to enforce the new rule. She posted the rule. At first the public was puzzled. Then they began to react. They remonstrated, violently. The size of a book, they said should have nothing to do with the time for which it could be loaned. Leave the size out of it. A folio book might be all illustrations and decorative printing and have very little reading matter in it and a duodecimo would very likely be in small print, loaded down with information and hard to read. The fair thing was to rely on the demand for the book. The much wanted new books for which every one was waiting, should be issued for the shortest period, this is, for one week; those which had been in the Library longer could be issued for two weeks. Books more than a year old, for which there was no special demand, could be issued for four weeks. If, for any reason, there was a special demand for an old book, the power to reduce the time it could be kept out should belong to the Librarian. There was no use to try to enforce the new rule. The Librarian gave it up. The board must have had some misgivings about it, for at the next meeting they withdrew this attempt to “high hat” the library and directed the Librarian to make a rule embodying the suggestions that had been received from the public. They admitted that the public was right and they had been wrong.
They now gave their attention to more important matters. They realized that the library was at the beginning of its career as a public and tax supported institution, now was the time to give it a legal foundation, before politics had had a chance to get into the picture. These men had in common a pride in the institution they had established and a sincere desire to see it function without being trammeled by interests who did not understand the unselfish library idea. They came together with other like-minded citizens, whom they had previously consulted to see if they could get the legislature of Michigan to endorse the idea of a really public library which they had gained from their experiences. They wanted an independent library, public in the widest sense, free from pressure, free from any subjection to the mayor, the city council, or the school board, an institution which would be, for the special educational interests which would be its province, as independent, as self-sufficient in its field as the School Board was in its province, or the City Commission in its wide area. In other words, they wanted the Library to be a civic corporation able to manage its own affairs. And that was what the legislature gave them. First it repealed a session law of 1867 (Section 12 of Act 370, 1867), which had made the Bay City Library a school district library. That being out of the way, the legislature enacted an act to recognize the Public Library of Bay City. This was known as the Library Charter or the Library Act of 1877. It covered the following points:
The name of the Library should be: THE BAY CITY PUBLIC LIBRARY
There should be six trustees appointed by the Board of Education for terms of six years, one trustee being appointed each year.
These trustees were to be a body CORPORATE, by name and style, THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE BAY CITY PUBLIC LIBRARY.
By that name they could sue and be sued, acquire, hold and convey property.
The ownership of all library property was vested in the Board of Trustees.
All PUBLIC MONEY appropriated for the use and support of the Library should be expended under their direction.
The Treasurer of Bay City was to be their treasurer, but the Treasurer could pay out no library money except on warrants signed by the chairman of the Board of Trustees and countersigned by the Secretary of that Board.
The Board of Trustees is subject to all the laws of the State relating to corporations, so far as the same are applicable.
The mayor of Bay City was to be ex officio, the presiding officer of the Board (This was later amended by substituting the President of the Board of Education for the mayor).
The common council of Bay City should appropriate yearly for the use of the Library the sum of $2,000. (This amount was increased by amendment several times, first by $500, then by $2,000, and finally all restrictions on the power of the city council were removed and the amount was left to their discretion).
Finally, the Library Act of 1877 or the Library Charter was reaffirmed by the Legislature of Michigan in 1920, when that act was added in to the Bay City Charter, and to make the matter doubly sure, the Legislature provided that anything in the newly amended charter which conflicted with the old charter of the Library should be void and without effect. In 1877 it looked as if the Bay City Public Library was adequately protected by its special charter against usurping city officials or mistaken heads of the City’s Board of Education.
The formative experimental years of the collection of books known as the Bay City Public Library ended with the enactment of the Library law of 1877. The men who always had managed the library interests of the city were now blessed by the legislature with the important title of Trustees of the Public Library and legally appointed to their offices by the Board of Education. The transition from private ownership to public trusteeship was made smoothly. There was no break between the old government and the new. The Trustees merely carried on with a new reassurance.