N Orwin Rush (Librarian 1936-1945)

Nixon Orwin Rush assisted in the Main Reading Room of the New York Public Library before coming to Colby in 1936, replacing J. Periam Danton as college librarian. Born in Oklahoma and of Quaker faith, he received a A.B. degree from Friends University (Witchita KS) in 1931 and a B.S. degree from the Columbia University School of Library Services in 1932.

Rush was interested in the college librarian position at Colby when an opening occurred in 1935 (when J Selwyn Ibbotson left the post). He had strong references and experience in both public and academic library settings. However, President Johnson felt Rush did not have the professional maturity or experience deemed necessary to improve and expand Colby’s library situated in cramped quarters within Memorial Hall. Danton was hired as the superior candidate.

N Orwin Rush - Miller Library columns

Librarian Rush at the Miller Library construction site circa 1940.

When Danton announced his resignation the following May, to pursue advanced studies, the American Library Association (ALA) once again recommended Rush for the position. His recent oversight of the transfer of several hundred thousand books from the NYPL’s central building to a New York warehouse became a significant asset, given the prospect of moving Colby’s own library to Mayflower Hill. Chairman of the Library Committee, Edward F Stevens, urged Johnson to interview him. Rush came to Waterville in July and made a favorable impression despite his apparent understated personality. He was offered an appointment as Associate Professor, at a salary of $2600, and met with Librarian Danton before the latter departed campus.

Officially beginning his position in August 1936, Rush found a great many needs to address, including insufficient space and staffing. Collaborating with library staff and Dean Marriner, who had acted as college librarian 1923-1929, Rush developed a plan in September to shift collections, furniture and office spaces and to improve services, keeping the eventual move to Mayflower Hill in mind.

In March 1937, Rush sent President Johnson a comparison of statistics for peer college libraries, showing Colby’s poor scoring,  in order to advocate for more resources. He continued to request additional staffing to improve services. In October and November 1939, he convened meetings of Maine college librarians to discuss ways to achieve greater cooperation. In September 1941, Rush registered with the ALA Placement Division to explore other professional opportunities. He ended his position at Colby in August 1945, accepting the position of Librarian at Clark University.


Rush consistently supported the efforts of Carl Weber and the Colby Library Associates as they promote the expanding rare book/manuscript collection, most notably the Thomas Hardy Collection, and he advocated for fireproof storage of these special materials. He oversaw rare book/manuscript acquisitions and donations and, in consultation with Weber, filled orders and and managed finances for scholarly library publications. Rush also created exhibits in the library to showcase Colby’s rare and unique materials.

Anticipating the move to Miller Library, which was still under construction, Rush served on the library’s planning committee. In 1942, he supervised the relocation of rare books and manuscripts to temporary fireproof quarters in the Women’s Union on Mayflower Hill, enabling Weber to maintain two exhibit cases there. As the special collections materials gained more visibility, Rush acknowledged the need for a discussion about their role within a small liberal arts college.

In 1972, as Librarian at Florida State University, Rush published a monograph on the importance of Special Collections to librarians, faculty and administrators at academic institutions, and collectors. He noted his years at Colby working closely with Carl Weber as a prime example of productive collaboration.

Works consulted:

Annual Report of the Librarian, 1936-1945. Colbiana Collection. Colby College Special Collections.

Marriner, Ernest Cummings. The History of Colby College. Waterville, ME: Colby College Press, 1963. Print and web.

N Orwin Rush file. Colbiana Collection. Colby College Special Collections.

Rush, N Orwin, John M Shaw and Howard Storrs. Special Collections: What They Mean to Librarians, Professors and Collectors. Tallahassee, FL: Florida State University, 1972. Print.