The Early Years
When the Museum was founded in 1951, it was to include the “most complete reference library of glass in existence.” In the Library’s first days, books were shelved atop a line of filing cabinets.
The nucleus of the initial collection was the Steuben Glass reference library in New York City, which contained 500 books, catalogs, and periodicals on ancient, European and American glass. Today, the collection has grown to almost 500,000 items, including 75,000 volumes in over 40 languages, thousands of design drawings, photographs, archives, microfilm, and a host of other informational resources. The Rakow Library collects materials from all parts of the world, in any language and in any format, if it pertains to glass art and history.
The Flood and the Recovery
In June of 1972, Hurricane Agnes struck the Gulf Coast, and swept up the eastern seaboard; three local rivers flooded, putting the Museum and its collections under water. The %%case%% holding 600 rare books tipped over, and the books were covered by mud and shards of glass panes. Half of the entire Library collection was damaged in the flood.
Conservation was an immediate concern and staff moved quickly to freeze the flooded materials. Freezing prevented additional damage which might have been caused by unnecessary additional handling and the growth of %%mold%%.
During the extensive recovery efforts, the Library occupied an abandoned Acme grocery store across the street from the Museum. Altogether, staff and volunteers dried, cleaned, and restored over 7,000 water-logged, frozen books over the next 2 years.
The rare books were sent to Carolyn Horton, a leading restoration expert, who disassembled, washed, deacidified and rebound them. For more information about the flood and recovery, see the publication Museum Under Water.
In 1977, the Museum announced plans for a major addition. The design for the new space situated the collections on an upper floor, above flood level. In 1980, a subsequent addition centered the Library in the heart of the Museum’s galleries.
In 1984, the Library was named The Juliette K. and Leonard S. Rakow Research Library to honor a couple whose interest in glass and scholarship contributed greatly to the Museum’s collections.
Over the next 15 years, collections grew so quickly that off-site storage became necessary. To accommodate these needs, the Museum began to plan another expansion. In March 1999, the library moved to a temporary location in the Baron Steuben building across the river, where it would remain until the current library building opened in June of 2000.
A newly renovated Corning office building provided a beautiful and functional space for library collections and researchers. Yet this new space quickly filled over the next 9 years and staff began to plan for additional renovation to accommodate a moveable shelving system.
In 2010, state-of-the-art compact shelving was installed, giving the library an expansion capacity of 300 percent and maximizing storage space. The new shelving has also allowed the library to provide flexible options for storing a variety of types of materials, from life-sized, rolled stained glass cartoons to jumbo-sized rare books and art posters.
As the collection has grown, so has the staff of the Rakow Library. When the library first opened its doors, library staff numbered two part-time positions. Today, over 20 staff members work to collect, preserve, and provide access to its expansive resources on the art and history of glass.