In my last entry I promised to identify the first librarian of Montana State University, and I will now deliver on that promise. The first librarian was the president of the college itself, Augustus M. Ryon, who was clearly directed in the minutes of the Local Executive Board on January 5, 1894 to “order books for the library to an amount not exceeding $2,000.”
Now I can year you complaining already. “Ryon doesn’t count! All he did was a little preliminary acquisitions work!” I will agree with you, so let’s consider in this post who dealt with the books Ryon purchased with that 2,000 dollars.
In January 1894, the Agricultural College of the State of Montana was still holding classes in the roller skating rink on Bozeman’s Main Street, and it would not be until the summer that the college experiment station building (today’s Taylor Hall) would be completed. Nevertheless, Ryon began buying books, and the person he charged with making sure those books were accounted for was, believe it or not, a student worker.
In the earliest records of the library can be found the accession register where the librarian recorded the first purchases starting on January 29, 1894. Her name was Hilma Sundell, and she was born in Minnesota on July 20, 1873. Her parents were both from Sweden, and sometime in the early 1890s they moved to Bozeman and Hilma became a student at the college in the “Ladies Course.” We don’t really know much more about her, other than she never graduated from the college, was married and widowed twice, and ended her days in Los Angeles, California on January 28, 1959. (Thanks, Ancestry Library Edition. If you haven’t used this fantastic tool, available on our database page, you really ought to.)
More important than what happened to Hilma is what happened to her work. The Local Executive Board authorized Ryon to actually pay Hilma for her work on March 21, making her officially the first librarian of Montana State University. In the accession register, the first book she recorded was Freehand Lettering for Working Drawings by Charles B. Wing (an appropriate enough title for a land grant school to start with, in my opinion). Have another look at her notations for accession number 13, which is volume 1 of The Conquest of Mexico by William H. Prescott. What makes Hilma’s routine entry, made nearly 120 years ago, interesting is that this book is still in circulation. The entire three volume set, handsomely rebound in library buckram sometime in the early twentieth century, is still in our catalog, still on our shelves, and still available for you to check out. Volume 1 bears Hilma’s handwritten entry of the accession number 13 on the preface page and an embossed stamp proudly proclaiming it as property of the Montana College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, no doubt impressed into the paper after Hilma’s initial work since the college did not adopt that name until later in the 1890s. The book is in remarkable shape, which is more than can be said for the aging author of this essay.
Hilma’s books likely stayed in the Main Street building until some shelving could be set aside in Taylor Hall in the latter months of 1894. The Conquest of Mexico had begun the first of many, many moves over the years.
Next time: More “firsts” and more of everything you ever wanted to know about our library’s history.