Oberlin College Archives


PAPERS, 1881-(1881-1930)-1986


Azariah Smith Root (1862-1927), son of Solomon Francis and Anna Smith Root, was born in Middlefield, Massachusetts, on February 3, 1862. His family possessed a strong sense of civic responsibility and a concern for the rights of others. At the urging of his uncle, Judson Smith (1837-1906, B.D. 1863), professor of church history at Oberlin College, Root enrolled in Oberlin in 1879 to complete his preparatory studies. He earned the Bachelor of Arts degree in 1884, and earned admission to Phi Beta Kappa. In 1887 he received the Master of Arts degree.

After graduation Root studied at the Boston University Law School before returning to Oberlin where he was employed as a cataloger in the College Library during 1885-86. He returned to law school, studying at Harvard Law School in 1886-87, when he was appointed librarian of Oberlin College in 1887 at the age of 25. In 1890 he was made professor of bibliography, specializing in the history of printing and the history of illustration. Root was a part-time member of the faculty at Western Reserve University's Library School from its inception in 1904 until his death. He also lectured at other library schools, including Columbia, the University of Michigan, and Pratt Institute. During 1916-17 he was acting head of the New York Public Library School. He continued to study and research the history of printing. In 1898-99 he studied Grolier bindings and Costeriana in Germany, and took courses at the University of Gottingen. He learned Dutch and used the summer of 1926 to research archives in Haarlem.

Root was instrumental in making the Oberlin College Library one of the largest college libraries in the United States. When he was appointed librarian, the College held 14,274 volumes. At the time of his death in 1927 the library held over 500,000 volumes, and his yearly accessions nearly equaled the number of volumes in the original library. The collection grew owing to Root's administrative and organizational skills. He acquired the Union Library Association library, and solicited numerous book gifts from alumni on an ongoing basis for four decades. Building a new home for the College Library added impetus to collection development. He helped to design the Carnegie Library (built 1908) and was instrumental in opening the College Library to town citizenry through the inclusion of a high school reading room and a children's room in the new library. Among his foremost contributions to the institution was making the College Library central to campus life, and in the process he defined what ought to be a library in a liberal arts college setting.

He was active in numerous professional societies, and his connection with the American Library Association dated back almost to the society's founding in 1876. He served as president of the American Library Association (1921-22), Bibliographical Society of America (1909-10, 1923-24), and the Ohio Library Association (1900-01, 1914-15). Root advocated improved training, greater standardization of methods and routines, cooperative book lists, a clearinghouse for duplicate material, collective purchasing, and cooperative storage for seldom used books. In 1923 he founded the American Correspondence School of Librarianship. He played a key role in developing the Rutherford B. Hayes Memorial Library in Fremont, Ohio, serving as the first secretary of the Hayes Historical Society, and advising the library on general policy, cataloging, books and equipment to be purchased.

Root was a campus leader and the quintessential man-about- town. He pursued a wide range of social, political and religious interests both for the College and the community. He was a member of the Prudential and Investment Committees of the Board of Trustees. During the 1910-11 academic year, in the absence of President Henry Churchill King (1858-1934, A.B. 1874, B.D. 1882) he was a member of the Executive Committee in charge of the President's duties. He was vice-chairman of the general faculty and a member of many of its committees. An active member of the Alumni Council, Root compiled much of the information used in the alumni catalogs. He was also secretary of his class.

In the community he was considered one of the most vital citizens. His church and civic activities were indicative of his background and upbringing. He was president of the school board, and served as trustee of the United Church and earlier as both deacon and trustee of the First Church. He also served on the Board of Commerce, Oberlin Mutual Benefit Association, was a director of the Telephone Company, and was president of the Oberlin Village Improvement Society. In 1893 Root helped to found the Anti-Saloon League, along with Howard Hyde Russell (1855-1926, B.D. 1888, D.D. 1921). During World War I he acted as camp librarian at Camp Sherman in Chillicothe, Ohio.

In 1887 he married Anna Mayo Metcalf (1862-1933) who was a member of the class of 1884. He was instrumental in influencing her younger brother, Keyes D. Metcalf (1889-1983, A.B. 1911) to pursue a library career. Azariah and Anna Metcalf Root had two children, Francis Metcalf (1889-1934, A.B. 1911, A.M. 1912) and Marion Metcalf (1896-1981, A.B. 1917).


Printed Sources

Johnson, Herbert F., "Root, Azariah Smith (1862-1927)," in George S. Bobinski, Jesse H. Shera, and Bohdan S. Wynar (eds.), Dictionary of American Library Biography (Littleton, Colo.: Libraries Unlimited, 1978), pp. 444-446.

Root, Marion Metcalf, "Azariah Smith Root," (unpublished, c.1955).

Rubin, Richard, "Azariah Smith Root and Library Instruction at Oberlin College," Journal of Library History, Vol. 12, no. 3, 1977, pp. 250-261.

__________ _, "Azariah Root's Concept of Education for Librarianship," (M.L.S. Thesis, Kent State University, 1976).

Tucker, John Mark, "Azariah Smith Root and Social Reform at Oberlin," Journal of Library History, Vol. 16, No. 2, 1981, pp. 280-291.

National Cyclopedia of American Biography Vol. 22

Oberlin Alumni Magazine, Vol. 24, No. 1 (October 1927), pp. 15-16.

Who Was Who in America I (1897-1942)

Archival Sources

Alumni and Development Records (RG 28)

Oberlin College Library Records (RG 16)

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Last updated: 23 February 2000