October 15 is the birthdate of Zelia Anne Smith, Lawrence’s first full-time librarian. Miss Smith was born in Waupaca in 1859 and graduated from Lawrence in 1882. While at Lawrence, she was president of the Lawrean literary society, senior class poetess and vice president, as well as a student assistant in the library. After graduation, Zelia taught private school in Appleton and worked as library assistant at Lawrence. In September 1883, Miss Smith became chief librarian, the first to hold the position, in which role she served until she died suddenly in May 1924.
During the nearly 42 years Miss Smith was librarian, the library moved from its home in Main Hall to the new Carnegie Library and increased in size from fewer than 10,000 volumes to almost 45,000. She was known by students for her ability to “squelch” noise in the library merely by tapping her pencil. In addition to being the sole library employee for many years, Miss Smith served as Alumni Secretary. She was held in such high regard by the alumni that they took up collections to buy her a new desk and to send her on a vacation to Europe.
At an alumni event, Dr. James Arneil, ’90, toasted Miss Smith saying, “The one enduring and endearing bond between the old university and the new college is our beloved librarian, Zelia Anne Smith. God bless her! May she live to be a hundred! She is an institution all by herself, and has made everyone of us members of her faculty, her devoted constituency.”
A portrait of Miss Smith hangs in the University Librarian’s office.