J Periam Danton replaced Joseph Selwyn Ibbotson as college librarian in August of 1935. He was a graduate of Oberlin College and the Columbia University School of Library Science. Subsequently, he received a M.A. degree from Williams College and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago Graduate Library School.
Within his first three months at Colby, Danton discerned serious issues within the library’s facilities and operations that together formed a crisis situation. He felt compelled to submit a special report to the Board of Trustees in November 1935 in order to expedite attention to these pressing matters:
- Disorganized and scattered library collections throughout nine storage spaces;
- Grossly inferior holdings in many subject areas;
- Unethical redirection of six library-designated endowment funds into the general operating budget;
- A library staff that was overworked, stretched between the Old Library and the Seaverns Reading Room, and severely underpaid;
- A significant periodical binding backlog that threatened damage and loss if not resolved.
Danton concluded his report with the observation that the library had been so long neglected, in so many ways, that immediate action was imperative.
The Library Committee of the Board met for the first time at the 16 November 1935 Board meeting and issued a report in January 1936. Stating that the library at Colby is the most vital single element within the college’s intellectual life, the Committee examined each of Librarian Danton’s five areas of concern and made recommendations that largely met or exceeded those in Danton’s special report.
In his only academic-year report, for 1935-1936, Danton acknowledge progress in some aspects of library facilities and operations. The Memorial Hall basement was reorganized for library storage using the help of National Youth Administration student workers. Bright prospects of greater financial support were seen in an anonymous library-designated gift of $25,000 (received in May 1935) and in donations from the Colby Library Associates, which was increasing its membership. A half-time secretary had vastly increased the work efficiency of the librarians. And, many more historically-significant items were found amongst the unprocessed backlog stored around campus and relocated to a rare book section in the library. Discovery of these treasures was reported in the New York Times as well as local media.
In this 1935-1936 report, Danton made a plea for attention to the issues raised in his November 1935 report and added: lack of fireproof storage for unique manuscript materials, which had been handed over to the Treasurer for safe keeping; no secure storage for the many rare books and first editions discovered in the library’s holdings; and, no faculty status for professional library staff except the college librarian. Danton was succeeded by N. Orwin Rush in August of 1936.
Special Report of the Librarian, November 1935. Colbiana Collection. Colby College Special Collections.
Report of the Library Committee of the Board, January 1936. Colbiana Collections. Colby College Special Collections.
Annual Report of the Librarian, 1935-1936. Colbiana Collection. Colby College Special Collections.
“Finds…” New York Times. 8 March 1936. Web. 4 March 2015.
The Colby Echo. Waterville, ME: Colby University/Colby College. 2 October 1935. Web. 4 March 2015.
The Colby Echo. Waterville, ME: Colby University/Colby College. 4 November 1936. Web. 4 March 2015.