Interview of Ilse Wilhelmi by Jay Ladd
Creators:Wilhelmi, Ilse, 1894-1993
Subjects (LCSH):Ohio State University. Libraries
Ohio State University. Thompson Library
Ohio State University -- History -- Sources
Wilhelmi, Ilse, 1894-1993 -- Interviews
MetadataShow full item record
Publisher:Ohio State University Archives
Series/Report no.:Ohio State University. University Archives Oral History Program. Ohio State University Oral History Project
Ilse Wilhelmi was a librarian at Ohio State for 34 years, and recalls many of the activities at the library between the 1930’s until the 1960’s. Her first library job was with the University of Kansas. She worked in the accession department, and recorded by hand in the accession book the author, title, publisher, place of publication, date of entry, the first name on the title, the date of publication, and the price. In 1928 she decided that further advances in the library field would require a graduate degree, and so she enrolled at Columbia University. After completing her M.A. degree she returned briefly to the University of Kansas, but relocated to Ohio State University in 1931. At Ohio State she enjoyed her relationship with the various departmental libraries, which she supervised, and the freedom to set her own schedule. She also worked part-time in the bindery. She enjoyed an excellent relationship with Mr. Earl Manchester, Head of the University Libraries. He was a gentleman, always polite and helpful. He did much to build up the rare book and fine arts collections. He had an “open door” policy with staff members, and encouraged their advice and involvement. This was a completely different mode of operation than that of his predecessor, Miss Olive Branch Jones. No one was allowed in her office, including President Howard Bevis, without a prior appointment. Since Wilhelmi had responsibility for the Departmental Libraries, Manchester asked her to clean up the “mess” in the Medical Library. Wilhelmi recalls that neither Presidents Bevis nor Fawcett were as interested in the library as they should have been. When funds were scarce both looked first to the libraries for cuts. Not until Edward Jennings was hired was there a President at Ohio State who truly appreciated the role and importance of the library. The libraries also faced even more difficult problems in the 1930’s in the years of the Great Depression. Funds were always scarce. Assistants to librarians who left could not be replaced. Both graduate and undergraduate students, as well as faculty wives, were hired to staff the librarians on a part-time basis. Mrs. Josephine Lord, Assistant Instructor in English, and the wife of Professor James Osborn Lord, Professor of Metallurgy, worked part-time. The turn over was rapid among the student and part-time workers, and Wilhelmi had to train them all. The workweek was increased to forty-four hours. Furthermore, her salary, as was the case throughout the university, was cut. World War II ended the Depression, but it created a new set of problems. Most of the men were off to war, and enrollment declined. As enrollment declined funds decreased. Jobs formerly done by men, such as shelving the books and taking care of circulation, were now done by women. It was a struggle to maintain the same hours for the libraries, although some Departments, such as Commerce and Education, somehow found funds to continue their regular library hours. The post-war period after 1945 brought a new set of “terrible” problems. There was a sudden massive influx of new and returning students and never enough classrooms. Students sat on windowsills, stairways, or “anything.” There had been no new construction on campus since the pre-depression 1920’s, and enrollment suddenly doubled from the WWII enrollment of 10,000. There was little money to order duplicate copies of books. Indeed, the post-war period was more stressful than either the Depression or WWII years. In time new staff were hired, and salaries restored, at least, to previous levels. There were occasions when severe weather, such as extreme conditions of snow or ice, or even an epidemic, forced some of the libraries to close, or to severely reduce hours. During the Asian Flu epidemic of 1959 cots were place in the main library to accommodate sick students, but fortunately it proved unnecessary to use the library as an emergency hospital. Librarians wore masks. Wilhelmi recalls that the epidemic lasted for at least two months. Wilhelmi started her career at Ohio State before the stack tower was built. She describes the layout of the main library in those earlier years, including the location of the stacks, the reserved and reference sections, the documents room, the telephone exchange, and the administrative offices. The acquisition room and the circulation desk were on the second floor. The catalog department was on the third floor. There was an elevator. The bindery, and more stacks (under the pipes) were on the ground floor. The Medical Library stored certain books in this damp, airless, area, and most were damaged by mold. The severe shortage of space in the main library made it difficult to keep track of the location of books, or caused long delays while the books were retrieved from storage. The decision was made to increase space by building a temporary Annex, and later the Stack Tower. Lewis Branscomb was hired as Assistant Director to plan for the additions. The Annex had three floors of stacks, and a desk and a telephone for Mrs. Mott. She alone, or a student assistant, was allowed to retrieve a book from the Annex. Patrons could not get a book directly from the Annex. The Annex lasted until the Stack Tower was built. After several years Branscomb replaced Manchester as Head Librarian. He was less outgoing than Manchester, and worked more through assistants than direct personal contact. One of Branscomb’s great successes was his ability to obtain large collections as gifts for the university. One example was the donation of the Milton Caniff collection. Also, it was Branscomb who obtained faculty rank for librarians. Other librarians mentioned included Miss Oldfather, Miss Snyder, and Miss Jeffrey. Professor Utley, of the English department, was a great friend of the libraries. Some of the librarians, when requested, would teach special classes on library methods and research techniques. A concern of librarians then and now was mutilation of library books by students. On one occasion a student from the Medical School was discovered to have cut two pages out of a magazine. As punishment he was required to attend an extra quarter of school even though he had already met all requirements to graduate. Such cooperation, she felt, could not be expected today. Among her best memories for her long career as a librarian at Ohio State would be restoration of salaries, cut originally because of the Great Depression, the addition to the Main Library, and the increase in staff. A painful memory was the fire in Lord Hall circa 1952 that damaged or destroyed most of the book collection there. Another was the flawed construction of the Social Administration Building, a building built by the WPA with no elevator, and with no air conditioning on the fourth floor where the library was housed. Books and mail had to be carried up four flights of stairs to the library. Another library “disaster” was the Health and Medical Library where there was never enough room either for books or students. The College of Agriculture planned its library without consulting the Main Library, and there was such insufficient space that the Diary Science collection had to be moved to the stacks of the Main Library. Among the Deans remembered for outstanding cooperation with librarians were Deans Arps, Evans, and Krill.
Howard Bevis: President of OSU (p. 12) -- Lewis Branscomb: Head Librarian at OSU (pp. 9-10, 12-13, 15) -- Milton Caniff: donor to special collections (p. 12)
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