Librarians and Archivists

W.W. Bishop

William Warner Bishop. Folder
"Portraits of Bishop and his wife
Finie Burton." Box 25, William
Warner Bishop papers.

William Warner Bishop

William Warner Bishop--born in 1871 in Hannibal, Missouri--came to the University of Michigan to assume the position of Librarian of the University. Prior to his long career at the University, Bishop taught Greek at bible colleges in Missouri and Illinois. In 1908, Bishop became the superintendent of the Library of Congress reading room, a position that he held until 1915 when he came to the University of Michigan. William W. Bishop worked as the University Librarian until his retirement in 1941.

William W. Bishop was president of the American Library Association from 1918 until 1919. During this period, the ALA, in conjunction with the international YMCA organization, was heavily involved in providing soldiers in the armed forces with books and library services through temporary camp libraries as well as through the mail service.

ALA, 1923

Americal Library Association Circle Meeting, 1923. Hot Springs, AR. Folder
"Bishop receiving awards; Attending meetings. Box 25, William Warner Bishop papers. Click to enlarge.


Red Cross Army Hospital in the Bronx; librarian doles out
books to injured soldiers. Folder "WWI, ALA Activities."
Box 12, Theodore Wesley Koch papers. Click to enlarge.

This project began in the summer of 1917 and continued even after the war had ended; soldiers waited sometimes for months before receiving discharges and transfers back to the U.S. The focus of much of the Library War Service was to provide soldiers with reading material that would help them to adjust again to civilian life; collections were heavily weighted with vocational and technical skills books.

As a librarian, Bishop had developed his own philosophies of librarianship, which he shared in lectures and speeches. In his Theory of Reference Work, Bishop defines the traits of the ideal reference librarian, arguing that "[t]act, the ability to single out the actual thing wanted in the haze of the first questions, a good memory, knowledge of catalogs and of classifications, are the prime requisites in a 'reference' librarian."1

Staff tea

Library staff tea, 1922. Folder "Portraits of Bishop and
his wife Finie Burton." Box 25, William Warner Bishop
papers. Click to enlarge.

Bishop found himself involved in the library profession during something of a sea change. Libraries as collecting institutions were replaced by libraries designed for wide public use, and collections and reference service reflected this. As Bishop expressed it, "In one sense, mediocrity may be said to be the key to the library situation in America at the present day. We have few really strong libraries, few very fine collections, few wonderfully expert librarians. We have numbers--large numbers--of fair buildings, fairly good collections, moderately successful librarians and assistants. This state of affairs is balanced to a great extent by our spirit of service, by our standardized technique, by our very effort to keep abreast of the best thought in our profession."

Class of 1921

UM Summer Library School class, 1921. Bishop is at left
rear. Folder "UM Library School classes, 1918-1921."
Box 25, William Warner Bishop papers. Click to enlarge.

As Bishop perceived, librarians had moved away from the curatorial model and towards providing wider access to printed information.

Class of 1919

UM Summer Library School class, 1919. Bishop is seated
in front row. Folder "UM Library School classes, 1918-
1921." Box 25, William Warner Bishop papers.
Click to enlarge.

Even before Bishop's years at the University of Michigan, he had developed firm ideas of what library services were essential to an effective post-secondary education. Bishop was supportive of the so-called 'liberal education,' as well as a solid browsing collection: "A selection of good literature on open shelves is an assistance to readers at a formative period which no university or college library can afford to forego. The more books a student can see and handle the better. They are worth more than catalogs, bibliographies, yes--and the reference librarian." His respect for the book was evident in the degree to which Bishop developed the collection. However, his esteem for the reference librarian must not be underestimated; it was in 1926, under Bishop's leadership, that the Department of Library Science was established.

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