Folsom Library

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The Richard G. Folsom Library ("Folsom Library") is a research library located on the campus of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY. It is named after Richard Gilman Folsom, the President of the Institute from 1958-1971. The library is open to the general public, but offers specific benefits, such as extended checkout times on books, for students and faculty at Rensselaer. The building, which was completed in 1976, is an example of brutalist architecture.


The One Room Collection

The origins of the modern Folsom Library can be traced to the founding of the school in 1824. At that time, the Rensselaer School occupied The Old Bank Place in Troy, and it is likely that the original library was only a single room or small part of a room.<ref name="timeline">Libraries at Rensselaer: A Timeline, in Folsom Library History folder, Institute Archives and Special Collections, Folsom Library, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy NY</ref> The library consisted of a sparse collection of scientific works and was created in line with the Constitution and Laws of the Rensselaer School, which stated that the school would have "a very ample scientific library to which members of the institution will have free access".<ref name="historyof">History of the Rensselaer Libraries, in Folsom Library History folder, Institute Archives and Special Collections, Folsom Library, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy NY</ref> The first librarian for the library came from the first graduating class, and was a student named Albert Danker. For a short period of time, the ownership of the library belonged to Amos Eaton, a local scientist and educator, when he obtained rights to the Old Bank Place after the Rensselaer School changed its name to the Rensselaer Institute and moved to Van Der Heyden Mansion, a nearby location. The school moved back to the Old Bank Place in the same year, and upon Eaton's death in 1842, gained ownership of the collection again. The library stayed under the ownership of Rensselaer when the institute was forced to move (due to estate ownership complications) to the Infant School, a small brick building in downtown Troy.<ref name="timeline" />

The Great Fire

In 1862, sparks from a passing locomotive on the Rensselaer and Saratoga Railroad bridge caused a massive fire that wiped out a large portion of Troy and the majority of Rensselaer's property.<ref name="troyirish">Young, William. “Troy's One Hundred Years 1789-1889 Troy Irish Genealogy Society. 31 Oct 2006. </ref><ref name = "timeline" /> Relocation and reconstruction began on 8th Street in Troy, and in 1864, the library of 396 volumes moved into the Main Building, where it would stay for another 30 years. During that time, an 80 page catalog of the library's collection entitled "Catalogue of the Library of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, N.Y." was published, and it listed over 1000 titles spanning various technical areas. From 1893 to 1927, the library moved several times, finding home in the Alumni House on 2nd Street and later moving to the Pittsburgh Building and Amos Eaton Hall.<ref name = "timeline" /><ref name="historyof" />

Student Use

Despite its growing collection, in its early years, the library was rarely used by students. During the years of 1912 and 1913, when the library was located in the Pittsburgh Building, there was considerably low utilization of the collection, with many students only visiting the building in their Senior year to prepare for their graduation theses. This was also partly due to the limited scope of the collection, which by Rensselaer's technical nature, consisted primarily of technical journals and other periodicals.<ref name="polytechnic">"The Library." The Polytechnic Feb. 1920</ref>

Student use increased during the period of 1912 to 1927 as the curriculum of the institute expanded and more volumes were added to the collection to supplement professors' instruction. It was also during this period of time that the library moved from the Pittsburgh Building to the more spacious Amos Eaton building. The Amos Eaton building offered sufficient space for a little over 30 years, until a growing number of publications written after World War II forced the collection to move again to the recently purchased St. Joseph Convent chapel.<ref name="historyof" />

A Dedicated Library

The library's continued growth forced the institute to take into consideration creating a dedicated building for holding its collection. Up until 1950, the collection had been largely technical, but expansion of the Humanities and Social Sciences as well as increased research created an intense demand on the library. The library had constantly been moved from building to building up until this point, never having had an actual home dedicated strictly for library usage. To evaluate the possibility of a new location, a Library Advisory Committee was formed. The committee first published their discovery of numerous deficiencies in the current library in June of 1962 in a report called "Future of the RPI Library Collection". The New York State Education Department also noted deficiencies of the library during their evaluation of the graduate program. <ref name = "greene">Development of the Rensselaer Library, pp. 2,3,5,9,14,15 in Greene Report folder, Institute Archives and Special Collections, Folsom Library, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy NY</ref>

The Greene Report

On June 20, 1967, the Library Advisory Committee published a report known as the "Greene Report", which detailed the purpose and requirements of a new library for the institute as well as previous research done about the library's efficacy. The report stated that "The Library is the information center of the university, providing resources to the scholars who are making, doing, and thinking things".<ref name="greene" /> It went on to detail the primary functions of the library to be education and research, and emphasized that the library must contain a strong collection in periodical literature, go beyond books (towards audio visual collections), strengthen peripheral material availability, and centralize all of the institutes's collections. The report also listed a number of other improvements, including: <ref name="greene" />

  • Renovation of physical space
  • Conversion from the Dewey Decimal System to the Library of Congress System
  • The hiring of more professional staff
  • Improved services for library users
  • 300% increase in funding for acquisitions
  • Creation of a program for binding of periodicals
  • Creation of a program for development of computer control and automation of the collection
  • A 50,000 monograph minimum
  • Improvements in the graduate level collection
  • A 100,000 minimum of Language and Literature books
  • An acquisition rate of at least 10,000 per year

At the time, it was also clear that Rensselaer was lacking in its collection when compared to its peers. In 1967, James E. Skipper, a researcher for the Association of Research Libraries, compiled a table illustrating the collections of various universities in New York.

Comparative Table of Library Monographic Holdings in the Indicated Subjects Among the Named Academic Institutions, 1967 <ref name="skipper">Skipper, James E. Association of Research Libraries (1967): Appendix E.</ref>
Subject Cornell University Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute Syracuse University Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Mathematics 13993 8050 18790 2889
Physics 14416 4600 15030 3315
Chemistry 9719 2600 4554 2946
Engineering 29453 4850 15533 4590
Technology 30883 2775 45098 5661

The Controversy Over Construction

The Greene Report made it clear that there was a need for a new library on campus, and the next phase of the process began, where the location of the library would be decided. The institute hired Quinlivan Pierik & Krause, an architecture firm centered in Syracuse, to evaluate the campus and determine a possible location for the new library. The firm recommended a location on the west side of campus, adjacent to the library's current location in the St. Joseph Convent chapel.

On October 23rd, 1970, the firm requested a meeting with the president at the time, Richard Folsom, to discuss the possibility of a staged construction procedure where the facility would be built in iterations. Each iteration would have an increasing amount of space. The initial iteration, with the existing chapel space, would offer a total collection storage space of 90,000 square feet. Projections by the architect indicated that a total of 128,000 square feet would be available in 1985, followed by 200,000 square feet in 2010. The firm believed that this method of construction would allow expansion at a rate that the institute budget could accommodate.<ref name = "plans">"Plans for New Library Questioned." RPI This Week 9 Nov. 1970</ref>

President Folsom presented the idea of a phased construction to the Library Advisory Committee, who supported the idea but criticized it for its continued use of the chapel as well as placing the campus in a constant state of construction. The committee also suggested considering one of the earlier potential locations, close to the bleachers located on the '86 Field, an athletic field at the center of the campus. Professor Howard Litman, the chairman of the committee at the time, issued the statement "In summary, the most recent proposal for providing new facilities for the Rensselaer library is a workable but undesirable plan of development. It will, for the short term, provide desperately needed space, but in the long run yield an unexpectedly costly facility in the wrong place." <ref name = "plans" />

The Controversy Over Location

Beyond the concerns over how the library would be constructed, questions still remained over where it would be built. Dissent existed among the library committee over the location, with those opposed to the western development arguing that a central location would be more convenient for students. The architecture firm, which had supported the western location for development, issued a report emphasizing the benefits of building next to the chapel. In the report, they noted that the site continued to be the optimal choice because:<ref name = "reaffirmed">"Library Site Near Chapel Reaffirmed." RPI This Week 30 Nov. 1970</ref>

  • "Immediately adjacent to both graduate and undergraduate academic facilities"
  • "Directly available by pedestrians"
  • "Parking, vehicular areas and services are superior on this site above others."
  • "Building area is sufficient."
  • "Distant observability of a building on this site is excellent"
  • "Imagery and symbolism, identity and focal point criteria are all satisfactorily met"
  • "Views over the city and down the wooded hillside to the west are delightful"
  • "'The Trustees' mandate of preserving open spaces can be honored
  • "No utility corridor restricts building area"
  • "Immediately available for construction"
  • "Utilities are available and adequate"
  • "Acoustic suitability is good"
  • "Sun and wind pose no problems"
  • "Exterior use requirement, if any, are easily met here."

The report convinced 10 out of the 12 members of the Library Advisory Committee to support the site recommendation. In 1971, the final decision was made to create a 100,000 square foot facility on the west side of campus. The new library would have an underground annex and a pedestrian plaza that would connect it to St. Joseph’s Chapel, and would cost approximately $6.9 million.<ref name="archivessite">Folsom Library Archives Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. 31 Oct. 2006 </ref>

With the constant delay in construction, many students had adopted an attitude of disdain towards the library. As one student quoted in a report on the library, "There existed an attitude of the Library being a very second class function on campus, expected to make do with inadequate housing and financial support and generally held in low self esteem." <ref name = "sreport">Wait, Carol. "The Response of the RPI Library to its environment." Lib 601 Libraries as Organizations 15 Mar. 1970</ref>

Construction Begins

Unfortunately, there existed an additional delay one year after the decision was made on the location and size of the building. In 1972, James C. Andrews, the Director of Libraries at the Institute at the time, issued a report pointing out weaknesses in the recently reaffirmed proposal for construction. In the report, Andrews pointed out that the current location was far from the center of the campus and student dorms, was closed in on three sides by existing buildings, and that the size was not sufficient for the 140,000 square feet requirement decided by student and faculty surveying. Knowing that there wasn't much that could be changed about the location at this point in the development process, Andrews suggested several other improvements. The Library Journal, a magazine which discussed various designs for libraries around the country, contained an article by Andrews in which he suggested the following changes: <ref name="andrews">Andrews, John C. "Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute: The Folsom Library" Library Journal Z679.2 (1980): 38-39.</ref>

  • Cut down the design from 5 floors to 4 floors
  • Use in-place concrete pouring to have the concrete exterior match the chapel
  • Have a slot-machine cafe in the library since there were not many places to eat on the west side of campus
  • Make the windows double glazed and tinted to reduce drafts and provide sun control
  • Centralize services at the main desk to minimize the cost of keeping the library open 100 hours a week

These improvements were taken into consideration in the ultimate design of the library, and construction began.

The building had its dedication ceremony on May 15th, 1976. J. Erik Jonsson, a professor of engineering and physics who had donated $2 million to get construction of the library started, decided to name the library after the president of the institute who had initiated construction - Richard Folsom.

In its discussion of the Folsom Library, The Library Journal also includes data on the Folsom Library:

Folsom Library Construction Statistics (1980)<ref name="andrews" />
Gross Square Feet 108,028 square feet
Reader Seats 900
Project Cost $6,900,000
Construction Cost $6,000,000
Square Foot Cost $55.54
Equipment Cost $550,000

Construction Goofs

The Folsom Library was originally constructed to have the floors turned upwards slightly so that the building would be leveled by the weight of all the books. Unfortunately, the building was built level and once the books were put into the library, it began to sag, which it does by one inch every year. According to college legend, the contractor designed the foundation without knowing that it was to be a library. RPI students call this phenomenon, which also applies to a few other buildings on campus, as "sliding down the hill into Troy."<ref>Template:Cite book</ref>

Folsom Library Collection

As of April 11, 2006, the Folsom Library contains the following number of books in its collection:

Folsom Library Collection (2006)<ref name="collection"> Folsom Facts. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. 31 Oct. 2006 </ref>
Bound Volumes (Books and Journals) 521,165
Government Documents 93,892+
Print Journal Subscriptions 509
Electronic Journal Subscriptions 38,218
Electronic Books 32,573
Online Research Databases 200+

Folsom Renewal Project

The design of the Folsom Library has remained fairly static since its initial conception in June 1972. The concrete exterior that is in place is designed to complement the light gray brick of the nearby St. Joseph’s Chapel. <ref name="archivessite" />

In 2005, the Folsom Library Renewal project was started. The redesign, a product of cooperation between an alumnus and Rensselaer’s Design and Construction group, focused on creating a more welcoming space and improving the overall image of the building.<ref name="folsomrenewal">Folsom Library Renewal Details Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. 31 Oct. 2006 </ref>

Changes include: <ref name="folsomrenewal" />

  • A redesigned information and circulation desk with multi-tiered acoustical ceilings
  • A temperature-sensitive, computer-controlled lighting system which is intended to make the library more inviting during specific seasons
  • Low profile shelving
  • Brighter, more colorful environment
  • Six different information hubs that offer central wired and wireless access
  • A new library cafe designed by Joy, McCoola & Zilch, Architects and Planners, P.C.
  • A new wireless GPS system that synchronizes all of the clocks in the library
  • Additional plants for decoration


The Folsom Library offers a number of services to students of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and patrons of the library. These include:

  • Class reserves
  • Book loans
  • Free general writing, project, and presentation assistance through the Center for Communication Practices [RPI students only]
  • Cultural and information events, ranging from film showings to web exhibits [1]
  • Interlibrary loans
  • Individual and group room reservations
  • Computer labs

The library has integrated many electronic resources into it’s offerings as well, keeping with the Institute’s overall status as a world class technological institution. Some of these resources that are made available are:

  • Research Databases
  • ConnectNY (a giant, shared catalog between libraries)
  • Online catalog access
  • RSS feeds
  • DVD’s


As of February 21, 2007, the hours of the Folsom Library are:

  • Sunday 12:00 Noon - 3:00 AM
  • Mon-Thu 7:30 AM - 3:00 AM
  • Friday 7:30 AM - 9:00 PM
  • Saturday 10:00 AM - 9:00 PM

External Link



Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Pages shamelessly copied over from Wikipedia)


Rensselaer at HartfordLally School of Management & TechnologyComputational Center for Nanotechnology

Student Life

PeopleFraternities and SororitiesGrand MarshalsRPI Pep BandRPI SongsWRPIRPI TV


Amos Eaton HallCarnegie BuildingCenter for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary StudiesChapel + Cultural Center at RensselaerEMPACFolsom Library Greene BuildingHirsch ObservatoryHouston Field HouseJonsson Engineering CenterLow Center for Industrial Innovation