University of Rochester Library Bulletin: The History of the University of Rochester Libraries--120 Years, Chp. 6

Volume XXV · Spring 1970 · Number 3
The History of the University of Rochester Libraries--120 Years

Chapter: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 |

The University Experiment

In 1915 the University decided to experiment not only with its first full-time librarian, but also with its first professionally-educated head librarian. He was James Adelbert McMillen, a recent graduate of the New York State Library School, who had gained some experience at the University of Missouri. Many university administrators of the day viewed library school-trained librarians with suspicion, doubting their scholarly background and their ability to cope with academic problems on the university level. Library education was relatively new and unproven at the time. 

McMillen set out to allay these fears. He attacked the book collections, weeding out duplicates and useless materials, developing working collections of books and building up sets of basic periodicals. He pleaded with the trustees to do something about the inadequacy and congestion of Sibley Hall; but, although he received some response to his pleas, all plans for improvements were delayed until after the European War. More importantly, he directed his energies to attracting more funds. With the strong backing of President Rhees, he won the financial support of Francis R. Welles and Charles A. Brown, the two alumni who had earlier contributed to the library. Welles and Brown jointly subscribed an endowment of $100,000 and enlisted more subscribers for $25,000 each. The effect of this endowment also was delayed by the War, but in 1919, the income from all of these moneys was applied to library purposes. McMillen encouraged the use of a new inter-library loan system, developed more bibliographical guides and indexes, and prepared bibliographical lists upon request of the faculty. One of McMillen's innovations was a course in bibliography. This he conducted in cooperation with the English faculty which was enthusiastic about teaching new students the use of the library. Another elective course in bibliography was offered the older students, reviewing for those interested the reference books in the various fields of knowledge. 

McMillen also instituted stricter rules of conduct in the library with the hope of creating a quiet atmosphere for study and research. Among the "victims" of his new rules were two young coeds who were evicted from the library for noise-making. Their dean of women, Miss Annette G. Munro, was quick to respond, writing McMillen:

"I did not have an opportunity to speak to the girls about Library rules until yesterday and Miss Otis and Miss Hardy who were sent out yesterday knew nothing of the new rules. They are well-bred young ladies and if allowed to return will not only be perfectly quiet themselves, but will use their influence to keep others quiet. . . . I think you will see a change from yesterday. If not please let me know at once and I will enforce all your regulations, without show of force."

During McMillen's tenure the book collection grew to nearly 77,000 volumes and the annual book budget increased to $4,200. Much of his work was accomplished despite the hectic distractions of the war years, and despite his own military service in 1918. Yet, it was so effective and impressive that the University administration forgot its prejudices and chose another trained librarian to succeed McMillen who resigned to take a similar position at Washington University, St. Louis.

Library History continued >>