Cornell University Library History: Cornell’s University Librarians

Otto Kinkeldey
Portrait of Otto Kinkeldey
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An internationally known musicologist and librarian at the New York Public Library, Otto Kinkeldey, became Cornell’s fourth Librarian in 1930. Born in New York, Kinkeldey received a Bachelor of Arts Degree in 1898 from City College and a Master of Arts degree from New York University in 1900. He studied at the Royal Academic Institute for Church Music in Berlin, receiving a Ph.D. degree summa cum laude in 1909. His administration as Cornell University Librarian coincided with some of the country’s hardest times, and they took their toll on the library.

As the American economy suffered under the Great Depression, so did the library. In 1930-31 5,526 books were bought; in 1933-34, the number had decreased to a low of 3,484. The Federal Emergency Relief Agency provided some help by funding student library workers. In the meantime, however, the library built for 400,000 books held almost twice that number by 1934. Kinkeldey complained bitterly about intolerable crowding in the stacks and reading rooms, insufficient work space, inadequate and underpaid staff, and parsimonious acquisitions funds.

Some space relief arrived with the addition in 1937 of a nine story stack addition which accommodated an additional 200,000 books. Throughout the 1940s, President Edmund Ezra Day provided annual special grants of five thousand dollars to the library from the President’s Surplus Fund. Through the efforts of Paul Gates of the History Department and a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, a Collection of Regional History (now part of the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections) was founded in 1942 to document everyday life in upstate New York.

Two new libraries were founded during Kinkeldey’s administration. In 1945, Cornell established the School of Industrial and Labor Relations, with its own library (now the Catherwood Library). The Business School (now the Johnson School of Management) was founded the following year, also with its own library.

After his retirement as Cornell University Librarian in 1946, Kinkeldey taught as a visiting professor and introduced courses in musicology at several universities. He was also the first president of the American Musicological Society, and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Literature degree from Princeton University.