Written by Laurinda Weisse, University Archivist
Miss Jennings started the library at the Nebraska State Normal School. Over her 34 year tenure, she built a 43,000 volume collection from scratch worth more than $100,000 in 1939 dollars, $1.7 million in today’s terms. The library featured open, browsable stacks, which were rare in that era. Most other academic librarians allowed only librarians and assistants to access the book shelves. Under Miss Jennings’s reign, the college became one of the first to offer library instruction, long before the text books on the subject were available. By 1917, each junior was required to enroll in Library Methods, a one credit class in which “’the organization and care of the school library is discussed, and special helps for teachers are given”. While we no longer have such a course, the librarians at UNK continue to teach students how to effectively use available library resources, albeit emphasizing databases and online resources over memorization of call number ranges.
The UNK Archives has most of the booklets written by Miss Jennings for student instruction. These publications feature many gems but also highlight how the core aspect of librarianship has remained stable over time. The 1917 Handbook of the Library emphasizes, “If you cannot find the information wanted, do not hesitate to ask for help; the watchword of the library is SERVICE. Do not forget, however, that the best part of an education is the ability gained through self help”. Today, students can get help from librarians in a number of modalities, all linked from our Ask a Librarian page.
In addition to her guides for students, Jennings wrote extensively on books for rural school libraries. The bulletins are primers on basic librarianship. They include everything from book recommendations broken out by grade level to directions on caring for books and which suppliers are best. Beyond books, Jennings emphasized the importance of music, writing that “music is one of the great social forces in rural community life. Real community music means participation by everyone. Boys and girls singing with their fathers and mothers will establish a common bond and lessen the lure of city life”. To support this, she recommends the purchase of a Victrola along with records from her supplied list.
Throughout her career here, Anna Jennings provided loving service to the college and the community. She participated in the Nebraska Library Association, gave talks to the community about her travels, and influenced numerous students. We have several Special Collections books inscribed to Miss Jennings, describing “happy hours spent under her watchful eye”. She was a remarkable woman who gave the library a strong beginning. We strive to continue what she started.