The Early Years
When the Museum was founded in 1951, part of its mission was to include the “most complete reference library of glass in existence.” 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 500,000 print items, including 75,000 volumes in over 50 languages, thousands of design drawings, photographs, and archives, as well as over 300,000 digital files. The Rakow Library collects materials from all parts of the world, in any language and in any format, if it pertains to glass art, science, history, and glassmaking.
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. 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 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 two years.
The rare books were sent to Carolyn Horton, a leading conservator, 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 to the Library. 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. In response, 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 nine years and staff began to plan for an 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 everything from matchboxes to life-sized stained glass cartoons and rare books to computer hard drives.
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.