Librarians and Archivists

Theodore W. Koch

staff in 1906

General library staff, 1906. Front row, L to R: Smith, Fuller, Gillette, Koch,
Pattison, Belser, Lane, Goodrich, Thomas. Back row, L to R: Hilton, Jordon,
Boswell, True, Tobias, Severance, Ottley, Finney. Folder "Events, 1906-1930."
Box 34, UM School of Information records. Click to enlarge.

In 1904, when Theodore W. Koch took the position of Assistant Librarian with the University, he was already well established as a Dante scholar. His expertise was largely due to the fact that he was in charge of the Fiske Dante Collection at Cornell University from 1895 until 1900. His work at Cornell produced an annotated catalog for Cornell's Dante Collection, which included over 7,000 works. Between 1900 and 1901, Koch studied at the University of Paris and College de France. Upon his return to the U.S., Koch found employment at the Library of Congress, working primarily with the Library's catalog. Koch worked at the Library as Assistant Librarian of Congress from 1902 until 1904.

When he took over as Librarian of the University from Raymond C. Davis, the Proceedings of the Board of Regents stated that Koch "is believed to be familiar with the best methods of library administration."1 The library pervaded Koch's working hours, as well as his home life; Gertrude Priscilla Humphrey, Koch's wife, was librarian at Lansing Public Library when they married in 1907.

class of 1909

Summer library school, class of 1909. Koch appears in the
center of the back row. Folder "Class photos, 1909-1933."
Box 34, UM School of Information records. Click to enlarge.

Koch's term as Librarian brought dynamic changes to the University of Michigan Library. His efforts were well-received by faculty, administration, as well as students. Koch initiated circulation privileges for students (previously, only faculty could take books out of the Library), opened the reading room on Sundays, allowed public access to the Periodical Room, provided extended service to departmental libraries, and established library methods courses during the University's Summer Session. This would later lead to a library science department, and finally, school. Koch worked to provide high-quality library studies courses, at a time when library education was not highly valued and many other summer library schools consisted of inadequate instruction given by poorly informed lecturers. Koch wrote of an incident where a UM graduate announced her intention to enroll at the NY State Library School, and "[a] professor in the University hearing of her plans said sneeringly, 'So you are going to learn how to dust books?' The remark is indicative of the repute in which many professors hold library training."2 17 students took part in the that first eight-week course in the summer of 1909. The following year, tuition for the summer library course was twenty dollars and space was limited to twenty students.


Call for book donations for ALA army
libraries, New York Public Library,
1919. Folder "WWI, 1914-1918--
ALA Activities." Box 12, Theodore
W. Koch papers. Click to enlarge.


Completed tower of books collected
by ALA for war library service. Folder
"WWI, 1914-1918--ALA Activities (2)."
Box 12, Theodore W. Koch papers.
Click to enlarge.

Koch held the position of University Librarian from 1905 until 1915, when he took a leave of absence. During this leave of absence, Koch was sent to London to persuade British censors to ease restrictions on scientific publications coming from enemy countries, namely Germany and Austria. Koch's efforts were middling successful; because of war-time travel limitations, he was confined to London and he wasn't able to accomplish all he'd hoped.

Le Mans

Army camp library at Le Mans, France, 1919. Folder "WWI,
1914-1918--ALA Activities (2)." Box 12, Theodore W. Koch
papers. Click to enlarge.


Charging desk at ALA Library. Beaune University, France,
American Expeditionary Force. Folder "WWI, 1914-1918--
ALA Activities." Box 12, Theodore W. Koch papers.
Click to enlarge.

However, during his time in London, he was able to observe how the British supplied books to their soldiers in military camps. Koch made his report of the London trip, complete with an account of the British army libraries, to Herbert Putnam, Librarian of Congress, and thus, the groundwork of the War Library Service was laid.

The following year, 1916, Koch officially resigned his post. He then returned to the Library of Congress as Chief of the Order Division where he worked from 1916 until 1919. He went on to be the Librarian of the University at Northwestern in Evanston, IL, serving from 1919 until his death in 1941. At his memorial service, Franklin Snyder, Northwestern's President said of Koch, "He was a scholar in his own right, and an indefatigable helper of other scholars. He was a master of his profession, who understood, not only the technique of library administration, but also the potential significance of a library as a cultural center."3

Koch's publication record tended toward literature, rather than manuals of professional library practice. His writings on Dante, translations of French literature, and the art of book-making seem to have been among his favorite topics of scholarship. However, his published work pertaining to libraries and librarianship did entail frequent visits to libraries to observe and publish studies of them: the Carnegie libraries throughout the U.S., as well as the best libraries of Europe. He was welcome at all of them; if a scholar presented Koch's calling card at an exclusive repository, he could gain entrance; Koch was so highly regarded.

For his French translation work, in 1940, Koch received a Cross of the Legion of Honor, to honor his work in furthering French culture.

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