LEXINGTON, Ky. (Dec. 6, 2012) — In celebration of the University of Kentucky's upcoming sesquicentennial in 2015, the 35th of 150 weekly installments on the university remembers the service of the institution's first librarian, Margaret I. King.
Margaret Isadora King, UK's first librarian and the namesake of the King Building, was a Lexington native, who lived her entire life at her childhood home, 225 South Limestone St. Lexington Hydraulics and Manufacturing Company, her father Gilbert Hinds King's company, led the way for what became Lexington’s water works system.
King graduated with honors in 1898 earning her bachelor's degree from the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Kentucky. She began her career doing clerical work in the Lexington law firm of Allen and Bronston from 1899 to 1905. In 1905, she began her long career at the college by serving as secretary to President James K. Patterson.
President Patterson asked King to organize the university’s first library in 1909. While putting the library in order, she continued as secretary to the president until she was named the institution's first librarian in 1912.
During her career as librarian of the university, King continued her education. She performed some graduate work at the University of Michigan, and in 1929, she earned her bachelor's degree in librarianship from Columbia University.
Some of King’s professional activities included serving as a trustee for the Lexington Public Library for many years, and directing the survey of Kentucky libraries from 1936-1938 for the American Library Association’s Survey of Research Materials in Southern Libraries. King’s development of library methods courses eventually led to the establishment of a department of library science (now the School of Library and Information Science) at UK.
King oversaw the development of a modern university library and her contributions to the library were vast. She was a dedicated employee who worked hard to improve the quality of the collection and the quality of service. Thomas D. Clark, a UK history professor in the 1930s and later chair of the department, recalled that King’s "whole orientation toward library management was getting books to students, running a good loan desk, and building a good reference department."
President Herman L. Donovan said of King "she has built the library up from one that could be housed in a single room to a library that now contains more than 400,000 volumes and is fourth or fifth in size among the libraries of the South. It would be impossible to estimate the value of her contribution to the University of Kentucky."
In addition to making books accessible to students and faculty, King also facilitated a lecture series, changing exhibitions, and extension programs. She taught library science and English courses at the university and encouraged her staff to travel to conferences and to obtain library degrees.
Outside of her career at UK, King was an active member of Christ Church Episcopal, now Christ Church Cathedral, where she was a Sunday school teacher, the head of the Altar Guild, and the head of the Girl’s Friendly Society for many years.
King retired in 1949, her career at UK spanned 39 years. In 1948, the Board of Trustees named the library in her name. Although she retired as librarian, she continued to perform some work for the library at UK. She died in Lexington on April 13, 1966.
This story on UK's history is presented by UK Special Collections. Special Collections is home to UK Libraries' collection of rare books, Kentuckiana, the Archives, the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, the King Library Press and the Wendell H. Ford Public Policy Research Center. The mission of Special Collections is to locate and preserve materials documenting the social, cultural, economic and political history of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
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