Katharine L. Sharp, Library Science Pioneer and Kappa Kappa Gamma Grand President

Katharine Lucinda Sharp was a pioneer in the field of library science. In the University of Illinois Library, there is a bronze tablet of her done by Lorado Taft, whose best known work at the University is the iconic Alma Mater statue.

Sharp was a charter member of Kappa Kappa Gamma’s Upsilon chapter at Northwestern University. Kate, as she was known by her Kappa sisters, was initiated on April 18, 1882. As the first charter member to graduate, her sisters gave her a diamond badge. After her death it became the President’s official badge. The badge was retired in 2000 and it is now at the fraternity’s headquarters in Columbus, Ohio. Sharp was also an alumna initiate of Phi Beta Kappa.

From 1894-96, she served as Kappa Kappa Gamma’s sixth Grand President. It was her desire to establish a chapter at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. On April 28, 1899, the Beta Lambda chapter was installed and she was a support for the chapter during its early years.

As for her professional career, in 1888, she became the librarian at the Scoville Institute, an endowed free library at Oak Park, Illinois. In 1890, she enrolled in the country’s first library science school at the New York State Library School at Albany. She was charged with preparing and installing the Cooperative Library Exhibit at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. She was then appointed Director of the Department of Library Science at the Armour Institute of Technology.  In 1897, she headed to the University of Illinois. Sharp was the University of Illinois’ Head Librarian for 10 years. She founded and was the Director of its Library School, one of the country’s early library science programs. An original member of the Illinois Library Association, Sharp was the group’s President from 1903-04. She was also on the Council of the  American Library Association and served two separate terms (1898 and 1902) as its Vice-President.

In 1907, she left the University of Illinois and went to live in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State where she was an officer of the Lake Placid Club. It was there that she died on June 10, 1914, as the result of an automobile accident.

The bronze tablet by Lorado Taft is inscribed “Nobility of character and grace of person were united with intellectual vigor and scholarly attainments she inspired her students and associates with sound standards of librarianship and ideals of service.”

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