Koch, Theodore Wesley, 1871-1941

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Librarian at the Library of Congress, University of Michigan and Northwestern University, and bibliophile.

From the description of Theodore Wesley Koch papers, 1894-1941. (University of Michigan). WorldCat record id: 34420658

Theodore W. Koch (1871-1941) was for many years a prominent figure in American librarianship. After completing his M.A. degree at Harvard University in 1894, he was employed by the library at Cornell University to catalogue the Fiske Collection of Dante material. He worked at the Library of Congress from 1902 to1904 and then moved on to the library of the University of Michigan, where he served as assistant librarian,1904-1905, and librarian,1905-1916.

A dispute with the Board of Regents led to his dismissal from his post at the University of Michigan so he returned to the Library of Congress, where he served as chief of the order division. During World War I he was involved in the American Library Association's Library War Service program to provide books for soldiers. In 1919 he was appointed librarian of Northwestern University where he served until his death in 1941.

From the guide to the Theodore Wesley Koch Papers, 1894-1941, (Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan)

Theodore Wesley Koch (pronounced “coke”) was Northwestern University's librarian from 1919 until his death in 1941. During that time he presided over the planning and construction of the Charles Deering Library and fought to keep the library strong during the Great Depression.

Koch was born in Philadelphia on August 4, 1871 to a Pennsylvania Dutch family. His father, William Jefferson Koch was a grain broker. Koch grew up in Philadelphia and studied at Central High School there. He earned his A.B. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1892 and then a second A.B. and a masters degree in Romance languages from Harvard in 1894. Koch had a great facility for language and studied French, Italian, Spanish, German, Greek, Latin, and Sanskrit.

After Harvard he spent five years at the Cornell University Library in Ithaca, New York preparing an annotated catalog of Cornell's extensive Dante collection. When he completed the Dante bibliography, Koch studied for two years at the Collège de France at the University of Paris. He returned to the United States in 1902 as an assistant in the Catalog Division of the Library of Congress. Two years later, in 1904, the University of Michigan hired Koch as an assistant librarian.

Michigan's head librarian, Raymond C. David, retired in 1905, clearing the way for Koch to take his place at the age of 34. He spent the next decade in Ann Arbor, marrying Gertrude Priscilla Humphrey, the librarian of the Lansing Public Library, in 1907. They had one child, Dorothy Alden. According to Edward Kraus, a dean at Michigan, Koch “injected new life” into the library there and secured increased appropriations to fuel its rapid growth. “Indeed it may be said,” the dean wrote, “that he put our library on the map.”

Koch tangled with Michigan administrators, the Board of Regents, and Legislators, however, especially over his campaign for an expensive new library. The dispute ended with Koch's resignation in 1915. A large number of Michigan faculty publicly supported Koch, offering what the Library Journal called a “sweeping and cordial testimony of appreciation,” but the university forced Koch to take a leave of absence with the understanding that he not return. During this debacle Koch developed severe stomach ulcers and entered a sanitarium at Johns Hopkins.

By late 1916, however, Koch was back at the Library of Congress, this time as head of the Order Division. His duties brought him to London, where he observed the British War Library Service's efforts to supply soldiers with books. Impressed, he helped organize a similar American program. To help the cause, he wrote Books in the War: The Romance of Library War Service. Koch also campaigned to restore the destroyed collection of the University of Louvain library in Belgium.

With the war over, and despite the lukewarm endorsement of Michigan, Koch secured the position of University Librarian at Northwestern in September 1919. When he took the helm at the Orrington Lunt Library he found it painfully inadequate, both its collection and the size of the student body having swelled considerably since its construction in 1894. In his first budget report in 1920, Koch complained about low wages for the staff and the resulting high turnover rate, the insufficient size of the book fund, and the generally poor state of affairs. The library's service didn't even measure up to Evanston Public Library, he wrote. He asked for more money and, only five years after being forced out of Michigan for a similar project, even expressed his hope for acquiring a new building in the near future.

This first budget report set a tone that was not to change for the duration of Koch's 22-year Northwestern career. At every opportunity he harped on the library's financial needs and lobbied administrators and donors for more funds. In 1925, Trustee Mark Cresap gently informed Koch that a new building was a “pipe dream.” Koch remained undeterred and by 1927 he had his eye on the estate of Charles Deering. In a letter to William Dyche, he suggested seeking the support of the Deering family for “a splendid living memorial,” in the form of a new library. By 1929 his efforts bore fruit and the Deering family signed on for the library project. Elated, Koch was deeply involved in all stages of the planning and construction for the library, which was dedicated at the end of 1932. He kept up a strong relationship with the Deerings, making numerous visits and maintaining a frequent correspondence.

Koch took great pleasure in building up the new library's collection. He made trips to Europe where he scoured the bookstalls of London and Paris for bargains, delighting in finding fine English calf or French morocco bindings at Depression-era prices. C.B. Roden, the librarian of the Chicago Public Library, recalled traveling with Koch. “In every big city he had friends who knew him,” Roden wrote. “Librarians, booksellers, scholars and antiquarians, in England and Scotland, in France, Germany, Italy - a telephone call from T.W. in any language (and he spoke them all) brought friends posthaste to bestow their hospitality on him.” In 1938 while in pursuit of a collection of several thousand volumes of German literature, Koch staged a back door assault on the home of the donor's ex-wife, who was trying to obstruct the gift. President Walter Scott responded to the tale by writing, “We either have to shoot you for exceeding your authority, or crown you as a hero. The latter seems more agreeable to me, and I am willing to cooperate in taking the necessary step to buy the crown.”

Koch was active outside the library as well. He was a prolific translator and a member of many boards and associations, including the Evanston Public Library, the Chicago Library Club, the American Library Institute and the American Library Association. The French government awarded Koch the Cross of the Knight of the Legion of Honor in 1940. At Northwestern he was notable for his stewardship of the Harris Lecture series, which brought numerous distinguished speakers to campus.

A member of the Caxton Club of Chicago, Koch wrote with knowledge and affection about collecting and living with books (for example, Reading: A Vice or a Virtue? Notes and Adaptations [preface by Walter Dill Scott, Evanston, 1926]); even his translations from German or French were mostly related to the art of book-collecting (The Assembly of Books, translated from the German of Julius R. Haarhaus (1932); Thanks to Books by Stefan Zweig (1929)). Koch also assembled a large collection of bookplates.

Behind these exploits, however, constant financial pressure loomed. Throughout the years of Depression belt-tightening Koch kept up his complaints on behalf of the library. He drew attention to the “very serious” turnover problem in the library staff in 1936, a year in which fourteen assistants had resigned because, he said, of low wages. In 1939 he summed up his frustration, writing, “There remains so much to be done, so many demands to be met, so many avenues of service that we might pursue if we only had the means, that the net result is baffling, bewildering, and discouraging.”

In another frank report, he offered again his ambitious plans for “making the Library a university within itself.” Perhaps recalling Cresap's comments years before, or indeed the Michigan debacle before that, he said, “Well, if it is a dream, please do not rob me of it. I have seen some of my dreams of eighteen yeas ago come true. Why may not the Deering Library building be but a foretaste of still better things to come?”

Koch died on March 23, 1941 at the age of 69. He would have retired on August 31. His ashes were buried in the Forest Hill Cemetery in Ann Arbor and a memorial book fund was established in his name. The University Library gardens were named in his honor.

His daughter, Dorothy Koch Bestor, remembered Koch as “a man with wide ranging interests, who ran a library pretty damn well, surmounted budget crisis and space crunches, added to the collection of books, increased the circulation… anything and everything that might possibly have a bearing on a better library where more people could get into immediate, direct contact with books.”

Please note, the Bentley Library at the University of Michigan also has extensive holdings of Theodore Wesley Koch's papers. A finding-aid to the Bentley's holdings is located in Box 1, folder1 of this series.

From the guide to the Theodore Wesley Koch (1871-1941) Papers, 1894-1980, (Northwestern University Archives)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Arthur Lyon Cross Papers, 1897-1940 Bentley Historical Library , University of Michigan
referencedIn Junius E. Beal Papers, 1869-1946 Bentley Historical Library , University of Michigan
creatorOf Weed, Lilla. Typed letter (copy) unsigned to "My dear Dr. Koch" November 15, 1934. Wellesley College
referencedIn Norton, Charles Eliot, 1827-1908. Papers, ca.1845-1908 Houghton Library
referencedIn Cornell University. Cornell University miscellaneous autograph collection, 1874-1929. Cornell University Library
creatorOf Riviere & Son. Typed letter (copy) signed A.E. Calkin, Director to: "Mr. Theo. W. Koch" January 31, 1935. Wellesley College
creatorOf Bulkley, Harry C. (Harry Conant), b. 1870. Harry C. Bulkley letters, 1895 and 1911-1912. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
referencedIn Library (University of Michigan) records, 1837-2005, 1920-2000 Bentley Historical Library , University of Michigan
referencedIn Harry Burns Hutchins Papers, 1879-1930 Bentley Historical Library University if Michigan
creatorOf Dante Society (U.S.). Correspondence with Henry Charles Lea, 1895-1912. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
referencedIn Records of the Biblioteca Femina, 1932-1973 Northwestern University Archives
creatorOf Weed, Lilla. Typed letter (copy) unsigned to: "My dear Dr. Koch" January 10, 1935. Wellesley College
creatorOf Koch, Theodore Wesley, 1871-1941. Theodore Wesley Koch papers, 1894-1941. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
referencedIn Walter, Frank Keller, 1874-1945. Papers, 1900-1945. University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
creatorOf Weed, Lilla. Typed letter (copy) unsigned to Dr. Koch November 2, 1934. Wellesley College
referencedIn Whitney Warren papers, 1914-1926. Houghton Library
creatorOf Koch, Theodore Wesley. Correspondence : with Belle Greene, 1930. Pierpont Morgan Library.
creatorOf Koch, Theodore Wesley, 1871-1941. Typed letter signed Theo. W. Koch to: "Miss Weed" January 22, 1935. Wellesley College
creatorOf Beal, Junius E. (Junius Emery), 1860-1942. Junius Emery Beal papers, 1869-1946. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
creatorOf Koch, Theodore Wesley, 1871-1941. Correspondence with Joseph Pennell, 1917. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
creatorOf Weed, Lilla. Typed letter (copy) unsigned to "My dear Dr. Koch" December 20, 1934. Wellesley College
creatorOf Zweig, Stefan, 1881-1942. Stefan Zweig letter and pamphlet, 1929-1932. Pennsylvania State University Libraries
creatorOf Koch, Theodore Wesley, 1871-1941. Autograph card signed Theo. W. Koch to: "Miss Weed" Wellesley College
creatorOf Labadie, Jo, 1850-1933. Jo Labadie papers, 1880-1931. University of Michigan
creatorOf Theodore Wesley Koch (1871-1941) Papers, 1894-1980 Northwestern University Archives
creatorOf Weed, Lilla. Typed letter (copy) unsigned to "My dear Mr. Koch" December 1, 1934. Wellesley College
creatorOf Koch, Theodore Wesley, 1871-1941. Typed letter signed Theo. W. Koch to: "Miss Weed" September 26, 1934. Wellesley College
creatorOf University of Michigan. School of Information and Library Studies. School of Information and Library Studies (University of Michigan) records, 1904-[ongoing]. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
referencedIn School of Information (University of Michigan)records, 1904-2012, 1926-1994 Bentley Historical Library , University of Michigan
creatorOf Koch, Theodore Wesley, 1871-1941. Typed letter signed Theo. W. Koch to: "Miss Weed" November 1, 1934. Wellesley College
referencedIn Arnold, Edwin, Sir, 1832-1904. Miscellany, 1896. Cornell University Library
creatorOf Bliss, Leslie E. Typed letter (copy) unsigned to: Mr. Koch October 28, 1934. Wellesley College
referencedIn Dante Society of America correspondence and records, 1883-1904. Houghton Library
creatorOf Weed, Lilla. Typed letter (copy) unsigned to "My dear Mr. Koch" October 6, 1934. Wellesley College
creatorOf Koch, Theodore Wesley, 1871-1941. Autograph letter signed Theo. W. Koch to: "Miss Weed" December 26, 1934. Wellesley College
creatorOf Koch, Theodore Wesley, 1871-1941. Typed letter signed Theo. W. Koch to: "Miss Weed" October 4, 1934. Wellesley College
creatorOf University of Michigan. Library. Library (University of Michigan) records, 1837-[ongoing]. University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
referencedIn Jesse Siddall Reeves Papers, 1853-1942, 1901-1942 Bentley Historical Library , University of Michigan
referencedIn University of Michigan Faculty and Staff Portraits, ca. 1860-ca. 1960 Bentley Historical Library , University of Michigan
referencedIn Thomas Bird Mosher papers, 1890-1939 (inclusive) 1895-1924 (bulk). Houghton Library
creatorOf Koch, Theodore Wesley, 1871-1941. Typed letter signed Theo. W. Koch to: "Miss Weed" October 23, 1934. Wellesley College
creatorOf Goodrich, Francis Lee Dewey, 1877-1962. Francis L.D. Goodrich papers, ca. 1903-1953 (scattered dates). University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
creatorOf Theodore Wesley Koch Papers, 1894-1941 Bentley Historical Library , University of Michigan
referencedIn John Jay Chapman papers, 1841-1940. Houghton Library
creatorOf Koeppel, Emil, 1852-1917. Letters, to Theodore W. Koch, 1899. University of Michigan
creatorOf Riviere & Son. Typed letter (copy) signed A.E. Calkin, Director to: "Mr. Theo. W. Koch" January 10, 1935. Wellesley College
creatorOf Koch, Theodore Wesley, 1871-1941. Typed letter signed Theo. W. Koch to: "Miss Weed" December 6, 1934. Wellesley College
creatorOf Quezon, Manuel Luis, 1878-1944. Letter, 1913 Dec. 20, Washington [D.C.] to The Librarian, University of Michigan Library [i.e. T.W. Koch] Ann Arbor. University of Michigan
referencedIn Walter, Frank Keller, 1874-1945. Papers, 1900-1945. University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
referencedIn Claude Halstead Van Tyne papers, 1885-1930 Bentley Historical Library , University of Michigan
creatorOf Goldman, Emma, 1869-1940. Letter, 1913 Nov. 16, New York, to "Dear Friend" [Ann Arbor] University of Michigan
creatorOf Weed, Lilla. Typed letter (copy) unsigned to "My dear Mr. Koch" October 31, 1934. Wellesley College
creatorOf Koch, Theodore Wesley, 1871-1941. Typed letter (copy) signed Theo. W. Koch to: "Mr. John Carter, Mr. Graham Pollard" September 24, 1934. Wellesley College
referencedIn Houghton Mifflin Company contracts, 1831-1979 (inclusive) 1880-1940 (bulk). Houghton Library
referencedIn Lucius L. Hubbard papers, 1871-1935 Bentley Historical Library , University of Michigan
creatorOf Koch, Theodore Wesley, 1871-1941. Typed letter signed Theo. W. Koch to: "Miss Weed" December 17, 1934. Wellesley College
creatorOf Koch, Theodore Wesley, 1871-1941. Autograph postcard signed T.W.K. to: "Miss Lilla Weed" November 14, 1934. Wellesley College
creatorOf Koch, Theodore Wesley, 1871-1941. Typed letter signed Theo. W. Koch to: "Miss Weed" October 31, 1934. Wellesley College
referencedIn Fred Newton Scott papers, 1860-1931 Bentley Historical Library , University of Michigan
creatorOf Koch, Theodore Wesley, 1871-1941. Typed letter signed Theo. W. Koch to: "Miss Weed" November 5, 1934. Wellesley College
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Adams, Randolph Greenfield, 1892-1951. person
associatedWith American Library Association. corporateBody
associatedWith Apostles Club (University of Michigan) corporateBody
associatedWith Arnold, Edwin, Sir, 1832-1904. person
associatedWith Barbour, Levi L. (Levi Lewis), 1840-1925. person
associatedWith Barrett, Albert M. (Albert Moore), 1871-1936. person
associatedWith Beal, Junius E. (Junius Emery), 1860-1942. person
associatedWith Belden, Charles F. D. (Charles Francis Dorr), 1870-1931. person
associatedWith Bliss, Leslie E. person
associatedWith Boucke, Ewald A. (Ewald Augustus), 1871- person
associatedWith Bowker, R. R. (Richard Rogers), 1848-1933. person
associatedWith Bulkley, Harry C. (Harry Conant), b. 1870. person
associatedWith Carter, John, 1905-1975. person
associatedWith Champion, Edouard. person
associatedWith Champion, Edouard, 1882-1938 person
correspondedWith Chapman, John Jay, 1862-1933 person
associatedWith Cornell University. corporateBody
associatedWith Cross, Arthur Lyon, 1873-1940. person
associatedWith Dante Society of America. corporateBody
associatedWith Dante Society (U.S.) corporateBody
associatedWith Demmon, Isaac N. (Isaac Newton), 1842-1920. person
associatedWith Detroit Public Library. corporateBody
associatedWith Douglas, Lloyd C. (Lloyd Cassel), 1877-1951. person
associatedWith Ellis Island Immigration Station (N.Y. and N.J.) corporateBody
associatedWith Evans, Charles, 1850-1935. person
associatedWith Fife, Robert Herndon, 1871-1958. person
associatedWith Finney, Byron Alfred, 1849-1938. person
associatedWith Foote, Henry Wilder, 1875-1964. person
associatedWith Garland, Hamlin, 1860-1940. person
associatedWith Gillette, Fredericka Botsford, 1875- person
associatedWith Gillette, Frederika. person
associatedWith Goldman, Emma, 1869-1940. person
associatedWith Goodrich, Francis Lee Dewey, 1877-1962. person
associatedWith Hale, Edward Everett, 1822-1909. person
associatedWith Houghton Mifflin Company. corporateBody
associatedWith Hubbard, Lucius L. (Lucius Lee), 1849-1933 person
associatedWith Huebsch, B. W. (Benjamin W.), 1876-1964. person
associatedWith Hutchins, Harry B. (Harry Burns), 1847-1930. person
associatedWith Jordan, Myra Beach, 1863-1946. person
associatedWith Knopf, Alfred A., 1892-1984. person
associatedWith Koeppel, Emil, 1852-1917. person
associatedWith Labadie, Jo, 1850-1933. person
associatedWith Lorch, Emil, 1870-1963. person
associatedWith MacChesney, Nathan William, 1878-1954. person
associatedWith Mason, William Smith, b. 1866. person
associatedWith McMurtrie, Douglas C. (Douglas Crawford), 1888-1944. person
associatedWith Michigan Historical Collections corporateBody
associatedWith Milan, Carl Hastings, 1884-1963. person
correspondedWith Mosher, Thomas Bird, 1852-1923 person
associatedWith National Committee of the United States for the Restoration of the University of Louvain. corporateBody
associatedWith National Committee of the United States for the Restoration of the University of Louvain. corporateBody
associatedWith Northwestern University (Evanston, Ill.) corporateBody
associatedWith Northwestern University (Evanston, Ill.). Library corporateBody
associatedWith Norton, Charles Eliot, 1827-1908. person
associatedWith Otis, William A. (William Augustus), 1855-1929. person
associatedWith Pollard, Graham. person
associatedWith Putnam, Herbert, 1861-1955 person
associatedWith Quezon, Manuel Luis, 1878-1944. person
associatedWith Reeves, Jesse Siddall, 1872- person
associatedWith Richardson, Ernest Cushing, 1860-1939 person
associatedWith Riviere & Son. person
associatedWith Sawyer, Walter H. (Walter Hulme), 1861-1931 person
associatedWith Scott, Fred Newton, 1860-1931 person
associatedWith Scott, Walter Dill, 1869-1955 person
associatedWith Snyder, Franklin Bliss, 1884-1958 person
associatedWith Stevenson, Burton Egbert, 1872-1962 person
associatedWith Todd, Albert May, 1850-1931 person
associatedWith University of Michigan corporateBody
associatedWith University of Michigan. Law Library. corporateBody
associatedWith University of Michigan. Library. corporateBody
associatedWith University of Michigan. Medical Library. corporateBody
associatedWith University of Michigan. School of Information corporateBody
associatedWith University of Michigan. School of Information and Library Studies. corporateBody
associatedWith Van Tyne, Claude Halstead, 1869-1930 person
associatedWith Walter, Frank Keller, 1874-1945. person
correspondedWith Warren, Whitney, 1864-1943 person
associatedWith Weed, Lilla. person
associatedWith White, Andrew Dickson, 1832-1918 person
associatedWith Wilson, Halsey William, 1868-1954 person
associatedWith Zweig, Stefan, 1881-1942. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Subject
Libraries--United States
Emigration and immigration
Americanization
World War, 1914-1918
Academic libraries--Illinois--Evanston
Libraries
Occupation
Function

Person

Birth 1871-08-04

Death 1941-03-23

Americans

English

Information

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