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Rudolph H. Gjelsness
LSA Minutes

1894 - 1968

Rudolph H. Gjelsness, Professor Emeritus of Library Science died August 16, 1968, at the age of seventy-three.

Professor Gjelsness served the profession of library science as one of its most distinguished members for a period of almost 50 years, 32 of which were at the University of Michigan. Beginning as Librarian with the A.E.F. in France in 1918, he came first to the University of Michigan in 1925 as Assistant Librarian and Chief Classifier after tours of duty at the Universities of Illinois , Oregon, and California and a year of study and research at the University of Oslo. His interest in Scandinavian literature resulting from this study continued throughout his life and he translated a number of works of literature from Norwegian into English.

His distinguished work in cataloging and classification at Michigan led to his appointment in 1930 as Chief of the Preparations Division of the New York Public Library and lecturer in library science at Columbia University. He returned to Ann Arbor in the summer of 1932 as a visiting professor, and it was during that same summer that he was married to Ruth Elizabeth Weaver. From 1932 until 1937 he served as Librarian of the University of Arizona where he built a distinguished collection of books and writings on the development of the West. Meanwhile, his success in teaching in various library schools during summer sessions led to his selection by William Warner Bishop as Professor of Library Science at the University of Michigan in 1937. In 1940 , he succeeded Dr. Bishop as Chairman of the Department, a post which he filled with great distinction until his retirement in 1964. He then returned to Arizona as Chief of the Special Collections Division and was on leave from there to assist in the founding of a new library school in Puerto Rico when he was struck and killed by an automobile one morning while on his way to class.

Professor Gjelsness' contributions to the library profession, beyond those as scholar and educator, are much too numerous to list here. Examples include his service as Treasurer of the American Library Association (1941-47), as Chairman of the ALA Committee on Cataloging and Classification (1930-33), as Chairman of the ALA Committee on Revision of the Anglo-American Catalog Rules and editor-in-chief of revision (1935-41), as Chairman of the Agriculture Libraries Section of ALA (1936-37), as Chairman of the Serials Section of ALA (1940-41), as Chairman of the Committee on Library Cooperation with Latin America (1942-45), and as President of the Association of American Library Schools (1948-49). He was co-director of the summer school at Bogota, Colombia in 1942, Director of the Benjamin Franklin Library, Mexico City and head of the Union Catalog Project, (1943-44), and visiting professor at the National School of Anthropology, Mexico (1944). In 1962-63, he served as library consultant to the President of the University of Baghdad, Iraq.

Many honors came to Professor Gjelsness during his lifetime, ranging from his election to Phi Beta Kappa and Phi Kappa Phi during his collegiate days to the awarding of honorary doctorates by Luther College (Litt.D. , 1953) and the University of North Dakota (LL.D. , 1958). In 1954 he was the recipient of the first annual Beta Phi Mu (the national honorary library science fraternity) award for distinguished service to education for librarianship. In 1966 a Festschrift was published in his honor by the University of Virginia (Books in America's Past), containing essays by a number of those who had written their doctoral dissertations under his direction. The tributes which came to him from his hundreds of former students at the time of his retirement fill a large volume.

Although Professor Gjelsness made significant contributions in his chosen fields of cataloging, classification, and history of publishing and printing, he was above all a great teacher, whether as a librarian directing the work of his staff in their various assignments, as a professor in the classroom in formal presentation of work in his field, or in informal conferences with graduate students and with colleagues at library meetings - he was loved and revered as have been few others in his profession.

This genuine affection and respect which his students, colleagues and friends felt toward Professor Gjelsness are probably best expressed by the words in the citation accompanying his honorary doctorate from the University of North Dakota: "You are among the men who have made our libraries, both public and institutional, an increasingly important factor in the intellectual welfare of this country. As Professor and Chairman of the Department of Library Science in the University of Michigan, not only are you a conservator of knowledge and a distinguished scholar yourself, but also you aid and inspire scholarship in others. Born in North Dakota, almost in the center of the North American continent, you have proved yourself equally at home in the culture of Mexico City and the Scandinavian countries. Humane in instinct, wise in administration, you have set an example for all of us."

Professor Gjelsness' colleagues, friends, and members of the library profession mourn the loss of this able and unusual man.