In Memoriam Norman Stevens, Longtime Director of University Libraries

A candle burning.
Norman Stevens, former director of university libraries, speaks at the rededication ceremony of the Wilbur Cross Building in 2003.
Norman Stevens, former director of University Libraries, speaks at the rededication ceremony of the Wilbur Cross Building in 2003. (UConn File Photo)

Norman D. Stevens, 86, of Storrs, former director of University Libraries, died on Dec. 15, 2018.

Born and raised in Nashua, New Hampshire, Stevens began his library career in 1949. He worked at the Library of Congress while attending American University part-time. He received his bachelor’s degree in Government from the University of New Hampshire in 1954, and spent a year at Victoria University College in New Zealand as a Fulbright Scholar. He received a master’s in Library Service from Rutgers University in 1957, and received their first Ph.D. in Library Service in 1961. In 1989, he received the university’s Distinguished Alumni Award.

Stevens worked at Rutgers University Library from 1955 to 1957, and was acting director of Howard University Libraries in Washington, D.C., from 1961 to 1963. He was a member of the administrative staff of the Rutgers University Libraries from 1963 to 1968.

He started at the University of Connecticut in 1968, where he held various administrative positions before being appointed as director of University Libraries. He was honored as director of University Libraries, emeritus in 1994, upon his retirement. He served as acting director of the newly created Thomas J. Dodd Research Center until 1995.

Stevens was an early advocate of computer technology in libraries for data management, shared cataloging, and research applications. He served on the board of the New England Library Information Network, and was president of the board from the late 1960s through the early 1980s. He was a member and chair of the board of the Connecticut Library Information Network during its formative years, and oversaw the UConn Libraries participation in OCLC: Online Computer Library Center.

He participated in planning and implementing UConn’s Homer Babbidge Library from 1975 to 1978, the largest new university research library building in the nation at that time. He also oversaw the renovation of that building in the 1990s. He directed the planning and construction of the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center and the Music Library, and also was involved in the early planning to improve library facilities at the University’s regional campuses.

Stevens, as administrator, was active in establishing and developing the Northeast Children’s Literature Collection in the Dodd Research Center, now among the nation’s major collections of books, original art, and manuscripts from distinguished children’s authors and illustrators. He was an active member of the American Book Collectors of Children’s Literature, and served as president. As a member of the University Libraries Exhibits Committee, Norman organized dozens of art exhibitions in both the Babbidge Library and the Dodd Center, continuing to volunteer into his retirement.

Stevens was an informative and entertaining contributor to the professional library literature for more than 60 years. He wrote seven books, hundreds of articles and reviews, and an assortment of library ephemera. In the mid-1950s, he and a colleague established the prestigious Molesworth Institute, a fictional organization devoted exclusively to the promotion of library humor. As Molesworth director, he wrote many satirical articles on aspects of librarianship, and the Institute’s Library Humor Archives are housed with his personal papers in the University Archives at the Dodd Research Center. Stevens is now director, in perpetuity, of the Molesworth Institute at the University of the Great Beyond.

Stevens assembled a collection of thousands of postcards, commemoratives, souvenirs, and artifacts relating to the history of librarians, library collections, and library architecture, which are housed in the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montréal, and wrote A Guide to Collecting Librariana, the first book on the subject. His voluminous collection of children’s literature about books, reading, librarians, and libraries is part of the Northeast Children’s Literature Collection at UConn.

He also collected crafts, inspired in part by the activities of the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen. Since the 1970s, he supported awards and donated objects to the league’s permanent collection. Stevens’s hand-carved 9” wooden spoon collection and related documentation will become part of the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. Initiated in 2005, the spoon collection illustrates his special ability to discover and support the work of creative people. It required him to identify and contact hundreds of talented artisans from around the globe, enlisting them in the creation of a unique and beautiful collection, forging lasting friendships along the way.

Stevens is survived by his wife Nora, son David (wife Sandra), daughters Sara, and Elizabeth (husband Thomas Breen); grandchildren Chelsea (husband Patrick Leishman), Nathan Breen (wife Oana), and Zoe Breen; and great-grandchild Luca Breen.

In lieu of flowers, please share a reminiscence on Stevens’s page at www.potterfuneralhome.com. A celebration of his life will be planned for the spring.