Sharp, Katharine Lucinda (1865–1914)

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Sharp, Katharine Lucinda (1865–1914)

American librarian who advanced the teaching of librarianship in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Name variations: K.L.S. Born on May 21, 1865, in Elgin, Illinois; daughter of John William Sharp and Phebe (Thompson) Sharp; died in Saranac Lake, New York, on June 1, 1914; Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, Ph.B., 1885, Ph.M., 1889; New York State Library School, B.L.S., 1892, M.L.S., 1907.

Established libraries in Wheaton, Illinois, and Xenia, Ohio (early 1890s); served as head of the Armour Institute of Technology's department of library economy; transferred the Armour Institute's library school to the University of Illinois and created the Illinois State Library School (1897); published Illinois Libraries (1906–08).

Born an only child in Elgin, Illinois, in 1865, Katharine Lucinda Sharp was only seven when her mother died in 1872. She was then raised by relatives of Elgin and Dundee, and enrolled at Elgin Academy before attending Northwestern University in Evanston at age 16. Her father had remarried, and in 1881, her half-brother, with whom she would have a close relationship throughout her life, was born. Sharp played an active role in school affairs and went on from her undergraduate work to receive her Ph.M. in 1889. The late 1880s found her teaching Latin, French, and German at Elgin Academy, but she soon knew that a teaching career was not to her liking. In 1888, she accepted a position as assistant librarian at the newly established Scoville Institute (Oak Park, Illinois), where her interest in library work was sparked.

Sharp began studies in 1890 at the New York State Library School (NYSLS) which was then under the directorship of Melvil Dewey. While pursuing her studies there, she proved an especially adept librarian and supervised the initial organization of the Adams Memorial Library in Wheaton, Illinois, and the Xenia, Ohio, public library. Sharp received a Bachelor of Library Science degree (B.L.S.) from NYSLS in 1892 and after graduation was selected to create the school's comparative library exhibit for the Chicago World's Fair (1893). The exhibit proved a great success, and the attention it brought helped Sharp secure an appointment as the librarian and head of the department of library economy of Chicago's new Armour Institute of Technology in December 1893. The program she began there was only the fourth library school in the country.

Sharp trained 41 librarians during her four years at Armour. She was elected to the council of the American Library Association (1895), directed a summer school for librarians offered by the Wisconsin Library Association (1895 and 1896), and became active in promoting the establishment of public libraries in Illinois through collaborative programs involving the State Teachers' Association and the State Federation of Women's Clubs. Such pursuits earned her yet more notice in the library profession, and she soon received offers from both the University of Wisconsin and the University of Illinois to move the Armour Institute's library program to their schools, where the program could enjoy more substantial financial backing. Armour's administration did not oppose the move, and in 1897 Sharp transferred the institute's entire library-studies program, including students, some faculty, and equipment, to the University of Illinois. There it became the Illinois State Library School.

At the University of Illinois, Sharp began to lobby for changing the school's requirements for the B.L.S., which at the time demanded two years' previous college study for admission into the two-year library-study program. In 1903, three years' prior college education became required, followed by Sharp's goal of four years in 1911. While working to improve library training, she applied herself to expanding enrollment, and the number of students in the program reached 75 in 1900. Known as demanding and inflexible, she was nonetheless a measurably effective and admired teacher who trained prominent librarians including Mary Eileen Ahern, Margaret Mann, Cornelia Marvin , and Alice S. Tyler . Though the term "projects" was not yet in use, her students conducted projects and engaged in both group discussions and seminars. Sharp (called K.L.S. by students) also took her classes on field trips, including week-long junkets to inspect Chicago's fine libraries.

During Sharp's tenure at the University of Illinois, there were no library-science textbooks available for use, and the extensive notes from which she taught were written down verbatim by her students. Her influence in the field was to continue long after her retirement, and it is likely that many of her class notes were incorporated into the first library-science textbooks—three of the first seven of which were authored by Sharp's students Margaret Mann and F.K.W. Drury—which began to appear in the mid-1920s. While meeting her obligations as a teacher, librarian, and administrator, Sharp also continued her own studies, receiving the degree of Master of Library Science (M.L.S.) from the New York State Library School in 1907 for what is considered the most significant of her published works, the 800-page Illinois Libraries, a history of all the state's libraries.

The death of both her father and half-brother, in addition to her own weak health, led Sharp to resign from her position with the Illinois Library School in 1907. In recognition of her contributions to the study of library science, the University of Illinois awarded her an honorary M.L.S.

During her retirement, Sharp lived with Melvil Dewey and his first wife Annie Godfrey Dewey (1849–1922) at the Lake Placid Club in upstate New York. Shortly after her 49th birthday, she received severe injuries in an automobile accident and died on June 1, 1914, in Saranac Lake, New York. She was buried in Dundee, Illinois. A memorial plaque by Lorado Taft for the University of Illinois alumni was inscribed: "Nobility of character and grace of person were united with intellectual vigor and scholarly attainments. She inspired her students and associates with sound standards of librarianship and ideals of service."


Danton, Emily Miller, ed. Pioneering Leaders in Librarianship. Boston, MA: Gregg Press, 1972.

James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1971.

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