Department Library

In a letter, I asked Erik Hemmingsen about the mathematics library and its librarians. I have split his response on July 11, 2002 into two parts, this one and "Mathematics Librarians." At the time Erik retired, the collection of books in the mathematics library was titled the "Erik Hemmingsen Mathematics Collection", in recognition of his major and devoted service to that library over the course of many years. That wording appears on the glass half-disk above the door to that library. After this paragraph the words are Erik's (but not the title above). William Ted Martin was chairman of the mathematics department from 1943 to 1946.

One of the many things that Ted Martin did when he came was to start the Mathematics Library. About 30 feet of shelving was appropriated in the large reading room and library located at the fourth floor of the Hall of Languages. Mathematics books were moved there from the stacks of the main library (which was then the Carnegie Library). All the books in that room were under the charge of a single librarian. The Mathematics offices for Liberal Arts Faculty members were located then in the basement of the Hall of Languages, just next to a small room labeled "Men's Faculty."

The Engineering Library, then in Smith Hall, also contained mathematics books, chosen by the professors of Engineering Mathematics. It took a number of years to amalgamate them with the Mathematics Library. In 1952 the Mathematics Department was mostly moved from its scattered offices into Smith Hall. However, some offices here and there in prefabs on campus held both faculty and graduate assistants. At that time the southwest corner classroom of the second floor of Smith Hall was made the Mathematics Library, with shelving placed around three walls. Three years later the adjoining northwest corner room was added to the Mathematics Library. There, rows of shelving were installed essentially filling the room. At this time it became possible to bring most of the books and bound volumes of journals from the old stacks of the Carnegie Library. Only a few very old books and a large collection of early American arithmetic books were left behind. Library budgets have been and remain one of the very great problems of the Mathematics Library. In Ted Martin's first year the budget for books was $35 a year and the rule was that the amount of unspent funds would be subtracted from next year's budget, a rule that probably was instituted during the depression years when many efforts were used to reduce expenditures. By 1947 that rule had been abrogated for departments and the budget for mathematics books and new journals had risen to several hundred dollars, a small sum when whole sets of journals were badly needed. Various levels of fussing brought very little budgetary relief until the head librarian (Wharton Miller) phoned me one day. He said that, if an immediate purchase could be made of one or two items that could be ordered very quickly, the mathematics collection could have a couple of thousands more that year. It took only a few minutes to get him precisely what he wanted. For the duration of Miller's term of office, the mathematics collection was richly rewarded for spending unspent money allotted to other academic departments.

Syracuse University had established a four-year branch in the area of Binghamton, New York. This was done to care for the education of veterans in the area who desired to go to college on the G.I. Bill. The branch eventually grew and acquired some distinguished faculty members. In a period when the State University system of New York was expanding, it acquired the Binghamton branch of SU for a price and established SUNY Binghamton. In the negotiations for the sale, the state auditors decided that SU was charging too much for the library and rejected it in toto. These books and journals eventually were returned to Syracuse where it was intended to send them all to an adult education institution at Chautauqua in western New York. That institution obviously did not need a graduate level mathematics library. Some complicated negotiations very ably assisted by our department chairman, Donald E. Kibbey, got me permission to exchange the books and journals for needed library acquisitions. Something like four or five thousand dollars was involved, but no cash was allowed to exchange hands. It was arranged that a large bookseller of scientific publications be sent the entire collection in exchange for the establishment of a credit account for the SU Mathematics Library. This made a great difference in acquisitions for a few years.The Mathematics Library also benefited substantially from the bequests of deceased faculty, in particular from the estate of Professor Floyd Fiske Dekker, who owned a number of rare books and a large collection of excellent more or less modern ones. His books that were not needed were sold for cash, which was used for acquisitions. Finally it should be mentioned that the mathematics fraternity, Pi Mu Epsilon, contributed a hundred dollars or two each year for library acquisitions.

The really old mathematics books that had some rarity were never moved to the Mathematics Library, and F. F. Decker's were added to the collection in Carnegie, which included a number of volumes mostly collected by a Professor Warren Bullard in the 1920's. That collection included a number of volumes written by French mathematicians in the time of Napoleon I, but also several from the seventeen hundreds. These books were all removed to Special Collections (the rare book division of the Library) in the 1980's, where they joined the 1635 edition of Descartes' geometry that sat on our open shelves when I arrived in 1947.

Source: After the first paragraph, this is part of a letter I received from Erik Hemmingsen on July 11, 2002. See also his document The Department of Mathematics until 1960.

--Phil Church 7/16/02