Curtis’s Library: A Resource Center Since 1926

Date: September 30, 2013 Category:
Brass door sign, in use since 1926

Brass door sign, in use since 1926

 

When Curtis’s library opened in 1926, two years after the school’s founding, its reading room was the room now known as the Bok Room, with its ceiling murals reminiscent of the Library of Congress. Below this room the library comprised eight staffed rooms filled with books, music scores, and state of the art equipment.

Since then, the library has evolved with the school. This exhibit provides an overview of the changing face of Curtis’s library, from its establishment in the main building in 1926 to the recent renovation of today’s Rock Resource Center at 1720 Locust Street.

 

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The library in the Bok Room, 1926–74 

When Mary Louise Curtis Bok bought George and Mary Drexel’s mansion on 1726 Locust Street to house the Curtis Institute of Music in 1924, she might have pictured the Drexels’ living room as the perfect reading room for a future library. The ceiling murals—with references to fields of study, virtues, publishing, and the arts—were painted by Philadelphia artist Edwin H. Blashfield in 1898, two years after he finished the ceiling murals under the dome in the Jefferson building’s main reading room at the Library of Congress.

In 1926 Mrs. Bok converted this room to serve as the library’s reading room, with a spiral staircase in the back leading to the basement, which housed the rest of the library. According to an Overtones description in 1930, these rooms included the Orchestra Room, the Academic Room, the Music Room, the Opera Room, the Cataloguing Department, and the Chamber Music Department. There were also a Phonograph Room and a Duo-Art Room. These were home to the Victrola and Duo-Art reproducing piano that were purchased in 1929, along with records and piano rolls. Curtis’s founder lavished the library with gifts, including rare music manuscripts and editions. (Many of the materials described in 1974 have since been sold.)

During the Great Depression the library’s budget was greatly reduced, after which the library remained underfunded for decades. From 1935 to 1975 the library purchased fewer than 100 items per year; a 1980 survey found that 42 percent of its collection was purchased before 1931.

 

Central ceiling mural in the early library (presently the "Bok Room") by Edwin Blashfield

Central ceiling mural in the early library (presently the "Bok Room") by Edwin Blashfield

The allegorical figures represent art, patriotism, music, religion, law, poetry, philosophy, and conquest. Circling the allegorical figures is a quote from the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow : “Lives of great men all remind us, we can make our lives sublime. And, departing, leave behind us footprints on the sands of time”

Central ceiling mural in the early library (presently the "Bok Room") by Edwin Blashfield
Library statistics book, 1927-1933

Library statistics book, 1927-1933

In February 1927 the library was visited by 965 students and faculty members, of whom 360 people borrowed books and music scores. The numbers rose to 1364 and 457 in March. The small inset shows that in 1927 the library capacity was 15.000 items with a total of 10,300 volumes. Four years later the library had already exceeded its original capacity. The library now contains more than 65.000 volumes..

Library statistics book, 1927-1933
Library reading room, 1930

Library reading room, 1930

At the back of the room is the spiral staircase to the basement. To the right, in front of the fireplace, is a large 16th century choir book on display.

Library reading room, 1930
Library embosser, used from 1926 to 2010

Library embosser, used from 1926 to 2010

The Library’s oldest piece of equipment stamped “The Curtis Institute of Music” on the title page of all the print materials. It was retired after 84 years of service.

Library embosser, used from 1926 to 2010
Student in the reading room, 1938

Student in the reading room, 1938

The student, Lela Maki ('40), is seen through the railing of the circular staircase leading to the orchestra library. [Photographer: Fritz Henle]

Student in the reading room, 1938
The orchestra room, circa 1930

The orchestra room, circa 1930

The black boxes on the shelves stored sets of orchestra parts.

The orchestra room, circa 1930
William Strasser, library consultant, 1938

William Strasser, library consultant, 1938

The Austro-Hungarian composer, conductor and artist William Strasser (1875-1944) immigrated to New York in June 1914 after he had started to go deaf. There he worked as editor and orchestrator for music publishers, composers, and musicians. In 1928 Curtis director Josef Hofmann appointed him as a consultant to the library, where he copied music for students and faculty and did book binding and repairs. Strasser continued working in the library until his retirement in 1942. He is shown here underneath his painting of a still life with Beethoven's Missa Solemnis. [Photographer: Fritz Henle]

William Strasser, library consultant, 1938
Students in the Reading Room, 1954

Students in the Reading Room, 1954

Anna Moffo (Voice ’54) stands at the bookshelves, and Michael Tree (Violin ’55), now a faculty member, reads by the window at right.

Students in the Reading Room, 1954

 

Knapp Hall, 1975–2000

On January 5, 1975, the library moved to Knapp Hall as 1720 Locust Street was known. Knapp Hall (named after Mary Louise Curtis Bok’s mother, Louisa Knapp) had housed the Department of Stringed Instruments and Theory from 1925 to 1943, when it was sold to the Elizabeth Arden Institute to be used as a beauty parlor. Curtis repurchased the building in 1969.

By the time of the move the library held approximately 50,000 volumes, of which 35,000 were for music performance and study. Its record collection included 1,800 78-rpm records, nearly 2,000 LPs, as well as tape recordings of Curtis performances from 1968. Initially, the library (from 1985 the “John de Lancie Library” in recognition of John de Lancie, Curtis director from 1977 to 1985) occupied only the second and third floor. In 1991, however, it expanded to fill all four floors of Knapp Hall to accommodate increased holdings. Under the direction of head librarian Elizabeth Walker the library kept up with rapid technological changes in the recording of music and performances. Information storage and retrieval changed dramatically as well with the arrival of the first library computers in 1991 (read an interview with Walker, 2002).

 

Listening room on the third floor, 1975

Listening room on the third floor, 1975

After the move of the library to Knapp Hall, a series of photographs was made of the new modern facilities. Notice the audio tape reels and the large, bulky earphones. [Photographer: Harris and Davis]

Listening room on the third floor, 1975
Circulation desk on the second floor, 1975

Circulation desk on the second floor, 1975

On the left two display cases for small exhibits about materials from the archives or special collections. [Photographer: Harris and Davis]

Circulation desk on the second floor, 1975
Periodical room on the second floor, 1975

Periodical room on the second floor, 1975

This room was used for reading periodicals and viewing library displays. [Photographer: Harris and Davis]

Periodical room on the second floor, 1975
Elizabeth Walker, head librarian, 1998

Elizabeth Walker, head librarian, 1998

Elizabeth Walker was famous for the efficiency with which she found anything needed, from information about Curtis's history, to hard-to-order scores for students and faculty, and materials in the legendary piles on her desk.

Elizabeth Walker, head librarian, 1998
Using the card catalog, c. 1988

Using the card catalog, c. 1988

In 1988 the library stacks were reorganized from genre/alphabetical order to call number. In an attempt to make the card catalog easier to understand, the librarians designed a “Workbook” for Curtis students, featuring Suzie Smartz and Teddy Toocool, with cartoon drawings made by Vance Lehmkuhl (now environment blogger for the Philadelphia Daily News), who was then the library's circulation manager. Although the workbook was never used, a copy is kept in the Curtis Archives.

Using the card catalog, c. 1988
Card catalog and reference room, 1988

Card catalog and reference room, 1988

The library card catalogs in the reference room seen from the circulation desk on the second floor.

Card catalog and reference room, 1988
Microfilming with Dan McDougall, 1995

Microfilming with Dan McDougall, 1995

In 1992 a microfilm camera and reader/printer were purchased to create microfiches of Curtis student files from 1924. The first part of the project, which only finished in 2007, was done by Dan McDougall '93, who also did extensive preservation work on the large collection of early scrapbooks in the archives. Curtis's first archivist was appointed in 2000. Before then, all historical inquiries were answered by head librarian Elizabeth Walker. [Photographer: David Swanson]

Microfilming with Dan McDougall, 1995

 

Rock Resource Center, 2000 to present

On March 8, 2000, Knapp Hall was dedicated as the Milton L. Rock Resource Center, in recognition of Curtis Board Chairman Milton L. Rock’s long-standing involvement with and generosity to the school. His $1 million gift enabled the library to meet the challenges of the new millennium. In the fall of 2002, the Rock Online Catalogue (ROC) was established, allowing students to search the library’s holdings from any computer. Two cataloging librarians were appointed for a three-year conversion project to enter all library holdings into the new database. The print card catalog was retired in 2008.

Elizabeth Walker retired from the library at the end of 2012 after a 35-year tenure, in which she had transitioned the library into a new age. Its holdings had multiplied and the library staff increased from two to six, including an archivist. In the summer of 2013, the renovation of the Rock Resource Center, which had started in the summer of 2011, was completed, ensuring appropriate climate control, better use of space and resources, and a welcoming atmosphere.

 

Demonstrating the ROC, 2003

Demonstrating the ROC, 2003

Circulation manager Darryl Hartshorne demonstrates the Rock Online Catalog (ROC) to students. [Photographer: David DeBelko]

Demonstrating the ROC, 2003
Rock Resource Center, 2004

Rock Resource Center, 2004

Rock Resource Center, 2004
Reception room in Knapp Hall, 1930

Reception room in Knapp Hall, 1930

The reception room of the Department of the Stringed Instruments and Theory Building, facing south, was the shampoo room when the building was used by the Elizabeth Arden Institute, and became the library's reference room when the library moved to Knapp Hall.

Reception room in Knapp Hall, 1930
Library reference room before the 2013 renovation

Library reference room before the 2013 renovation

The library reference room was closed off from the reading room behind it. During renovations of summer 2013, the space was opened up again, and both spaces were connected.

Library reference room before the 2013 renovation
Reference room after the renovation, opening to the reading room or "lounge"

Reference room after the renovation, opening to the reading room or "lounge"

Reference room after the renovation, opening to the reading room or "lounge"
Reading room or "library lounge" after the renovation

Reading room or "library lounge" after the renovation

Reading room or "library lounge" after the renovation
Renovated library hall, 2013

Renovated library hall, 2013

Renovated library hall, 2013
Circulation desk, 2013

Circulation desk, 2013

On the wall a portrait of Milton L. Rock.

Circulation desk, 2013

 

The Library is open!

The reading room or lounge is redesigned to be relaxing and inviting, while the second floor, which includes an education room and houses the audio-visual holdings and archives, provides better accommodation for students and researchers.

The new and more open space in the library reflects current developments in the library world. The library has added numerous online databases to its holdings and made the Rock Online Catalog (ROC) more user-friendly and available to the general public. In addition, it has expanded access to digital media and created a new website for both the library and the archives to ensure better access to its holdings. Upper floors offer quiet study spaces and a group study room, accommodating different learning styles and needs. For members of the Curtis community, the library is (even more) open!

 

DISCLAIMER: The images and documents in this exhibit are made available for purposes of education and research. The Curtis Archives has made every attempt to determine the copyright status of materials displayed, but due to the nature of archival materials we are not always able to identify this information. We are eager to hear from any rights owners, so that we may obtain accurate information. Upon request, we will remove material from public view while we address a rights issue.