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Records of the Oberlin College Library (Group 16)
[20] Records of the Oberlin College Library, 1815(1950-75) -1988, 25 ft.

Administrative History

The Oberlin College Library was formed in 1833 at the same time the college was incorporated. Until Azariah Smith Root (1862-1927) became the librarian in 1887, the library played a secondary role in the College, since classroom assignments were based on textbooks and not on other reading. As librarian, Root moved the library from a relatively low-profile department to a prominent institution on campus, a reflection of his own prominence in the library profession. During Root’s tenure the library’s collection experienced phenomenal growth. By 1910 Oberlin’s was the largest academic library in Ohio; by 1923 it was the largest college library in the country. The library had become a place where a large part of all the work of the students was done. A new library building (Carnegie Library) was constructed in 1908 to accommodate the library’s changing role.

Julian S. Fowler (1890-1975) succeeded Root in 1927. For 28 years Fowler worked to improve the library’s collection and services. During his tenure, the endowment also grew from $250,000 to $436,000. Fowler emphasized quality over quantity in the library. The book collection was even made available to alumni, including those overseas. In 1940, an extensive addition containing six stories of stacks greatly expanded Carnegie Library.

Fowler was succeeded as librarian by Eileen Thornton (b.1909), who served from 1956 to 1971. During her tenure, Thornton broadened the scope of the collection, improved services, and planned and secured funding for a new, multimillion-dollar library building (Mudd Center). In addition to presiding over a 20 percent increase in the library’s holdings, Thornton developed a major music library to serve the Conservatory, a chemistry and biology branch library in the Kettering Hall of Science, a separate College archives, and a collection to support the East Asian studies program. Subject-specialist librarians were also added in music, art, and science. By the time she retired in 1971, there were 18 professional librarians on the staff.

Herbert E. Johnson (b. 1934) was director of the libraries between 1971 and 1978. He oversaw the construction, equipping, and move into the Mudd Learning Center (now Mudd Center). He presided over major budget cuts during the mid-Seventies, the result of fiscal stringency necessitated by a national economic recession and hard times at Oberlin.

When William A. Moffett (b.1933) was named Oberlin’s director of libraries in 1979, he faced the challenge of improving the library’s funding and collection-management practices. The first online circulation system was installed in 1978. Between 1982 and 1986, under the direction of Systems Librarian Katherine A. Frohmberg (b.1949) and others, the card catalog was converted to machine-readable records and, in 1984, an automated acquisition and serials control system was implemented. The second online circulation system with an online catalog was purchased in 1986. The Oberlin Bibliographical Information System (OBIS) became operational in 1989.

Scope and Content

These records (1815-1988) are organized around four subgroups. The administrative file, which consists of 13 record series, documents many aspects of the administration of the library at the levels of both the directors and the individual departments. The material also reflects the prominence women played in the administration of the library. The annual reports, 1887 (1919-1988), of the director, branch librarians, and department heads summarize the goals, objectives, activities, and accomplishments of each year. Minutes and/or agenda of the Library Council and the Education Commission are available for 1902 (1956-1974). Correspondence of most directors, 1908-1988, including Eileen Thornton, covers library administration, collection development, building programs, and the relationship between the Oberlin College Library and the Oberlin Public Library. Financial records, 1938-1974, document budget development, in particular efforts to build endowments and seek outside financial support. Personnel matters, 1956-1974, includes information on benefits, professional development, faculty status, salaries, working conditions, and staff organization and unions. Library departments and collections, 1884-1983, contain documents related to the operation and management of various departments and collecting areas within the library. Records of the library’s support of particular College programs, 1959-1969, among which was the Peace Corps Training Program, are available. The files on exhibits reflect the varying interests and concerns of the Oberlin community. There are records concerning the establishment of the Oberlin College Archives, 1947-1971, and the Oberlin Public Library, 1888 (1910-1970). Among the records of the Ohio College Library Center, 1965-1988, are files accumulated by Eileen Thornton. The subgroup of records pertaining to the planning and constructing of facilities, 1963-1976, covers Carnegie Library and the Seeley G. Mudd Center. Publications (subgroup III) of the Oberlin College Library, 1940 (1965-1988), include its newsletter, special collection catalogues, and bibliographies of women’s studies holdings. Materials documenting the history of the library, 1815-1970, are located in subgroup IV.

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