Drexel at 125 Years: Rooted in Library Science

Drexel Institute Library Training Program - photo of library

As Drexel closes the lid on a 2016 time capsule in celebration of the University's 125th anniversary this week, the College of Computing & Informatics reflects on its history dating back to the founding of the University in 1891.

In 2012, former College Dean and Professor Emeritus Guy Garrison, PhD published the second edition of “A Century of Library and Education at Drexel University: Vignettes of Growth and Change,” a comprehensive overview of our College’s history from 1891 to 2012. Garrison sadly passed away in 2014.

Below we share an excerpt from his book in which shares interesting history on the key players in the formation of the University’s library science program in 1892 – including Founder Anthony J. Drexel, President James MacAlister, Dewey Decimal System inventor Melvil Dewey, and Drexel’s first library science Director Alice B. Kroeger.

Today, Drexel’s Master of Science in Library and Information Science program is one of the oldest, and longest continually accredited programs in the U.S.

From "A Century of Library and Education at Drexel University" (pgs. 3-4):

“Anthony J. Drexel’s Institute, which opened in 1891, and its library training program, which followed a year later, were novelties for Philadelphia, but not without precedent elsewhere in the country. The New York State Library School in Albany, successor to Melvil Dewey’s pioneer school at Columbia University, supplied one model. Pratt Institute, founded in Brooklyn in 1887, had opened a library training program in 1890. A.J. Drexel knew about Pratt Institute, probably visited there, doubtless was aware of the nascent library training program, and certainly hired Lucina Ball away from Pratt to be the Institute’s first registrar.

There were soon to be other similar institutes, e.g., Armour in Chicago and Carnegie in Pittsburgh. The missions of all were similar – to emphasize the application of the arts and sciences to vocational training programs, and to assume responsibility for the sort of pragmatic learning that the universities failed to embrace. Librarianship fit the mission very well and, indeed, all four institutes soon had library training programs.

Plans for Drexel’s library training program were announced in 1892, and by October of that year a class of ten members was assembled. The program was billed as being in full accord with standards set by schools already in existence, which could only have meant Albany and Pratt. This accord was no surprise since [the Drexel library program’s] founding faculty, Alice B. Kroeger and Bessie R. Macky, were Albany products.

The program had the full support of the Institute’s president James MacAlister. In fact he taught in the program, lecturing on the history books and printing from 1892 until his retirement in 1913.Alice B. Kroeger

It is of interest to note a couple of links between Drexel Institute and Armour Institute in Chicago, the ancestor of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois. James MacAlister was a friend of Armour’s president Frank K. Gunsaulus. Both were bookmen and library supporters, and both taught the same subject in their respective library schools. In addition, Katherine L. Sharp, hired by Gunsaulus on Melvil Dewey’s [inventor of the Dewey Decimal System] recommendation to start the Armour program, was a recent Albany graduate and undoubtedly acquainted with her classmate Alice B. Kroeger, hired by MacAlister on Melvil Dewey’s recommendation to start the Drexel program. Kroeger, incidentally, never received a college degree; her credential from Albany was a certificate, not a diploma.

[Kroeger] came to Drexel in 1891 at age 27. A native of St. Louis, with some years of experience already at the St. Louis Public Library, she was trained to the state-of-the-art and ready for a fast-track career.

There is only one picture known to exist of Kroeger (at right). She is said to have been an attractive woman with dark auburn hair, pale complexion and erect carriage. Displaying unlimited energy and a capacity for disciplined work, she was called (by students) formal, aloof, austere. She set high standards for herself and for those who worked with her. She was, of course, not only directing the new library training program, but the Drexel Library and Reading Room as well.

The publication in 1902 of her “Guide to the Study and Use of Reference Books,” an outgrowth of her courses at Drexel, solidified her national reputation. Her book, in successive editions, became the Mudge, the Winchell, the Sheehy that still serves as the magisterial American guide to reference books.

KroegerValley Forge Picnic 1911 Drexel was active on the national level professionally, serving on ALA’s Council and on ALA’s Committee on Library Training, the ancestor of today’s Committee on Accreditation. At a meeting of the library educators during the 1907 ALA Conference in Asheville, NS, she was a vocal spokesperson for a formal association of educators. Also present at the meeting was Anne Wallace (Howland), then director of the library training program at the Atlanta Public Library. One assumes that Kroeger was acquainted with Wallace – the woman who was to be called to Drexel in 1921 to revive, after its hiatus of 1914-21, the school which Kroeger founded.

Kroeger died young, at age 45, in 1909. Following her death the school was in disarray for some months until Salome Fairchild Cutler came as interim director. In fall 1910 June Donnelly, an Albany graduate and Simmons College teacher, came as director, a position she held until June 1913. A charming photo shows members of the class of 1911 on a picnic at Valley Forge (at left).”



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