wvuLogo

LIBRARIES

Ask a Librarian

The Story

Eliza's is named after Eliza J. Skinner, Library Director, 1897 – 1902

Eliza Skinner photo

When President Jerome H. Raymond arrived at WVU from the University of Wisconsin in August 1897, he found the library in complete disarray. In a report to the Board, he called the library a “hopeless tangle” where “books were not arranged but simply placed upon the shelves anywhere space allowed.” He noted that the untrained librarian “found time to retire to the alcoves and devote herself to fancy work, while generally too busy to cut her books and magazines, or hunt up a book for some student.”

Eliza Skinner was appointed Library Director at West Virginia University in October 1897. She was the first professionally trained librarian. Prior to her appointment, librarians were either professors who tended the library in their spare time, or unmarried ladies who needed acceptable genteel employment. President Raymond reported to the Board of Regents :

Miss Skinner is a lady of education and culture who has had many advantages. From 1893 to 1895 she was abroad studying at Zurich, Heidelberg, and Paris … in 1896-97 she was connected with the Library School of the Armour Institute of Technology at Chicago, and during the Summer of 1897 she was instructor in the summer school of Library Science at the University of Wisconsin, where I made her acquaintance and had an opportunity to know her work.

… [She] has borne herself like a heroine and has worked literally night and day ever since she has been here. She is preeminently an educated business woman, systematic and painstaking and conscientious. Her aptitude for detail is almost wonderful.

She completed an inventory of the library, classified the books according to the Dewey Decimal System, began a dictionary catalog, abolished a $2 deposit previously charged to borrow a book, instituted open shelves for the book collection, and established regular library hours. She taught a course “Use of Books” and established a faculty Library Committee.

In 1902, Miss Skinner resigned to accept a position in the cataloging department of the Library of Congress. The Board of Regents, in an unusual tribute, expressed “deep regret at the loss of her valuable services by which the library has been brought to a high state of efficiency.” She had a 33-year career at the Library of Congress and was one of the developers of LC’s extensive bibliographic control system. Because of her abilities and accomplishments, she was among the first Federal employees exempted by executive order of the President from mandatory retirement. She died in December 1935 in Washington DC.