Cornell University Library History: Cornell’s University Librarians

Sarah Thomas
Portrait of Sarah Thomas
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Sarah Thomas received her bachelor’s degree from Smith College in 1970 and a Master of Science in Library Science from Simmons College in 1973. She earned a Ph.D. in German literature from Johns Hopkins University in 1983, writing her dissertation on the topic, Hugo von Hofmannsthal and the Insel-Verlag: a Case Study of Author-Publisher Relations. In a career spanning thirty-five years, Thomas cataloged books in Harvard University’s Widener Library, taught German at Johns Hopkins University, managed library coordination at the Research Libraries Group in California, served as the Associate Director for Technical Services at the National Agricultural Library, and directed both the Cataloging Directorate and the Public Service Collections Directorate at the Library of Congress.

Thomas came to Cornell University in August 1996 as the Carl A. Kroch University Librarian. At Cornell she provided leadership for the twenty libraries that made up the University’s library system. Her tenure was marked by vigorous growth in the Library’s digital collections, and by initiatives that have kept Cornell at the forefront of developments in digital technology. Services and amenities for library users expanded, including access to research databases for alumni, laptops that students can check out at the circulation desk, and the wildly popular Library Café in Olin Library. In addition, the library hosted frequent cultural events, including lectures, exhibition openings, and musical performances.

Under Thomas’s administration, the Library’s facilities continued to expand. An addition to Mann Library was constructed in 2000 with funds from the State of New York. The Catherwood Library moved to new quarters in Ives Hall. The Management Library moved into Sage Hall, which was completely renovated as the new home of the Johnson Graduate School of Management; and the construction provided an opportunity to open the time capsule originally placed in the building’s cornerstone, including a letter from Ezra Cornell to “the coming man and woman.” The Mathematics Library moved into larger quarters in Malott Hall, and the Music Library was expanded in the elegant addition to Lincoln Hall. In 2002, a new off-site high-density warehouse opened; new modules were added in 2005. The Engineering Library was renovated in 2005 to provide improved technology, more comfortable seating, and group study areas for library users.

The Cornell University Library held over 7.5 million volumes and has an active digital library program. The Association of College and Research Libraries paid tribute to the quality of the Cornell Library with its 2002 Excellence in Academic Libraries Award.