On March 5, 1931, in Gilman Hall, the Friends of the Johns Hopkins University Libraries was established. This group, founded at the request of President Joseph Ames and following the example set at Oxford’s Bodleian Library by Sir William Osler, was created to provide financial support for the university library, particularly for acquisitions.

If it seems odd that the Friends’ birth should come more than 50 years after the university’s founding, consider that the original library used by the university was the George Peabody Library. Its significant collections (some 60,000 volumes in its early years) and proximity to the university — then located downtown — made it a perfect resource for the new university. Indeed, the first appropriation for books was only $5,000 as there was no need to purchase materials that would duplicate the Peabody’s substantial holdings.

When the university moved to its current location at Homewood, 40 years later, it became clear that having a library some two miles distant from campus was not the best arrangement for faculty and students. The university’s library had grown, through department holdings, to nearly 200,000 volumes, but the collection was hardly comprehensive (Ames called it “spotty”) and in need of support.

Enter the Friends of the Libraries, whose first executive committee contained names that will be familiar to Hopkins alumni and students today, including Frank J. Goodnow, Hopkins’ third president; Albert D. Hutzler, for whom the reading room is named; and William H. Welch, one of the “Big Four” of Hopkins Medicine and namesake of the medical library. (The Friends’ current president Catherine Passano McDonnell, is the great-granddaughter of Edward B. Passano, another of the original founding members.)

Founding president Henry Barton Jacobs, writing on the front page of  the first issue of ex Libris, stated the group’s aims: “an association of persons who take a friendly interest in the general Library of The Johns Hopkins University” that would be committed to discussing books, using the library, and providing annual dues to “make possible the purchase of such books as could not have been bought out of the Library’s current funds.”

Since that time, the Friends of the Libraries has grown from a small gathering of local book enthusiasts and collectors to a national group comprising alumni, parents (and grandparents) of alumni, faculty, staff, and others who are committed to keeping the Libraries at Hopkins vibrant. With nearly 700 members across the country, the Friends provide support for acquisitions (both print and electronic), for programming (like recent talks by authors Sam Kean and Cort McMeel, as well as the popular undergraduate reading series on the steps of the Eisenhower Library), and for technology upgrades to help Hopkins scholars stay ahead in a research landscape that is constantly changing.

Happy birthday Friends of the Libraries, and here’s to the next 80!


One thought on “Happy 80th Birthday to the Friends of the Libraries

  1. I moved to Charles Village in order to research at the Eisenhower Library. I have been working there for 4 years and have loved the access I have in my research of several disciplines. This is changing as of the past year. These are my concerns:

    1) The hardcopy journals on the shelves are progressively coming later and later. A subscriber to a journal generally receives the journal 1-2 weeks before the date on the cover; this is the benefit of subscription. At the Eisenhower, I’m seeing monthly journals arriving close to the next publishing date; for weekly journals it is 4-5 issues late. I am told that is because publishers are saving money by bundling their shipments.

    2) the public computers are so antiquated that they can’t run the advertisements and video feed that accompany online journal entries. It is like dial-up and makes it impossible to navigate for research. There was a major switch out of computers not long ago; I thought they were upgrading, but I am beginning to think that they were downgrading. I’m not sure of the reasoning for this.

    I was told by librarians that if I want current issues that I should go to the online version; that is what everyone is doing now. I was told if i want faster computers I should bring my own laptop; that’s what others are doing.

    This all seems surreal given that Hopkins is a leading university and none of these explanations show any concern for public satisfaction. I don’t want to read all my journals online because we already know that it has an ill effect on your health and I don’t want to carry a laptop because I have a computer at home and don’t want more wireless service fees.

    Given that I can go to the University of Maryland downtown or even the Pratt Public Library downtown and get fairly current journals (not the names that I always need) and reasonably fast public computer service, my question is this–

    Why is the Eisenhower allowing these research conditions to exist for its patrons? I am an affiliate who pays for the priviledge and wants to continue to have the priviledge; but my concerns are not being taken seriously and as such, it feels as though the library is trying to discourage public research. A university library is critical for those professionals making their living writing.

    Thank you,
    Cindy Walsh

    Dear Cindy,
    Thank you for your comments. We appreciate your reliance on our library for your work. I hope I can address your complaints adequately.
    1. The arrival of our print journal issues. I spoke with staff in our serials acquisitions department and he acknowledges that there are times when a subscription gets ‘lost’ in the ethernet and the paperwork. That often causes several issues to arrive all at once, many of them late. He also reassures me that there is no backlog in the serials department; so issues are not sitting on a cart waiting to be put on the shelves. A few of the publishers may be bundling their print issues together, thus slowing some of the titles, but this is not across the board.
    If you are concerned about particular titles, please let me know. I’ll work with our serials staff to get some answers for you.
    2. Our public computers. You are not the first person to tell us about our public computers. We know they are old and slow and not conducive to the kind of work our patrons do. Our systems department is working on their replacement. They are trying to balance our patrons’ needs, our budget, and the different technologies available to us. When I have more information about a decision and a time frame I will update this post.
    Please don’t hesitate to contact me or any other library staff with further questions.
    Robin N Sinn
    Research Services
    rsinn@jhu.edu

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