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A Brief History of the Art Library

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The Three Homes of the Art Library

Allen Museum: East Gallery (1937-1955)

From its founding in 1917 and for almost 60 years afterwards the art library was in the Allen Museum. In 1976 it moved to its current location, the top floor of the Allen Museum Venturi Addition. The art library was originally located in the East Gallery. The display shelving still on those walls original held the library’s collection. The reading room filled the remaining space. [More...]

Allen Museum: Rippin Gallery (1955-1975)

Less that 20 years after its 1917 opening both the Allen Museum and the Art Dept. had outgrown the Cass Gilbert building. In 1937 art classes moved from the museum into the new classroom building designed by Clarence Ward. Likewise the art library moved upstairs from the East Gallery to the second floor. Study carrels lined the walls overlooking the sculpture court in the art library’s new space. Books filled the library walls floor to ceiling; library ladders helped students and staff reach the topmost titles. Books were shelved by size with the largest volumes on the bottom. A generous reading room and a seminar room once filled the rooms currently housing the Registrar’s office and the Print Study room. [More...]

Venturi Art Building (1937-1955)

In 1976 the art library moved to its current home on the top floor of the Allen Art Building addition. The art library, and the profession, has seen tremendous changes since 1976. In 1976 books were lent and returned with manual “pocket cards” with signatures and rubber stamps. Likewise books were listed on paper cards in large cabinets, called card catalogs. By the mid-1980s library cataloging was fully automated and manual check-out had been replaced by online circulation systems. With the birth of the World Wide Web in 1994 libraries were among the first to create websites. The collection has also expanded significantly since the mid-1970s. Yet many things have not changed: the plaster casts, the Venus de Milo, Artemis and Donatello’s David, still greet visitors. [More...]

Art Librarians 1917-2017

Barb Prior (1998-Present)

Barb Prior is Oberlin’s 10th Art Librarian. Barb wears many hats as she works on a wide variety projects, from ordering new books to meet professors’ needs, to the preservation of fragile materials and the storage of outdated ones, to conceiving of new exhibits and public outreach initiatives... The list goes on! [More...]

Jeffrey Weidman (1983-1997)

Jeffrey Weidman was Oberlin’s 9th Art Librarian. He taught “Library Research Methods and Resources in the Visual Arts” in the Art Department from 1993-96 and even taught an ExCo course about the writings of Paul Brunton. [More...]

David J. Patten (1980-1982)

David J. Patten was Oberlin’s 8th Art Librarian. During his three years at Oberlin, in addition to directing the Art Library, he oversaw the automation of the library’s circulation system. Since the new automated system used barcodes instead of pocket cards, Patten oversaw adding thousands of barcodes to Art Library volumes. [More...]

Chris Huemer (1975-1979)

Chris Huemer was Oberlin’s 7th Art Librarian. Though she was Art Librarian at Oberlin for only four years, Chris Huemer oversaw an important project: moving the collection from the second floor of the Allen museum to its current home in the Venturi building. [More...]

Margery Williams (1960-1975)

Margery Williams was Oberlin’s 6th Art Librarian. She graduated from Oberlin in 1936. During her term we switched from Dewey Decimal to Library of Congress call numbers, and the Art Library moved temporarily into Mudd while the Venturi Wing of the art building was being built (in 1975). [More...]

Jeanne Barwis (Lopez) Forsyth (1956-1960)

Jeanne Barwis (Lopez) Forsyth was Oberlin's 5th Art Librarian. From 1956-1960, during the years that her son attended Oberlin College, she worked as the art librarian at Oberlin College. She and Ellen Johnson became close friends as school children and remained friends until Ellen died. [More...]

Frances Fall Pelham-Keller (1953-1956)

Frances Fall Pelham-Keller was Oberlin’s 4th Art Librarian. She attended Oberlin College in 1941 and graduated with a B.A. in art history in 1945. She was the named the Art Librarian in 1953 and served in that position until 1956. [More...]

Ellen Johnson (1934-35 & 1939-1948)

Ellen Johnson was Oberlin's 3rd Art Librarian. During her tenure as Art Librarian she initiated the well-known Art Rental program. Johnson believed that “having good works of art in [students’] own rooms would have a health-giving effect on their thinking and feeling.” [More...]

Elizabeth Ruth Fitton Folin (1931-1938)

Elizabeth Ruth Fitton Folin was Oberlin’s 2nd Art Librarian. Elizabeth graduated from Oberlin College with a bachelor’s degree in Art History in 1931, the same year she began serving as Oberlin’s second Art Librarian. [More...]

Clarence Ward (1917-1930)

Clarence Ward founded the art library and served as the Art Librarian from 1917-1930. An architectural historian by training, Ward had a passion for books and the essential role they played in building a great museum and curriculum. In addition to building the collection to support research and teaching he also began a special collection of rare architecture books called The Jefferson Architecture Collection. Oberlin is one of a handful of institutions that have duplicated Thomas Jefferson’s Library. [More...]
Last updated:
November 29, 2018