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California Library Hall of Fame: Joseph Cummings Rowell
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California Library Hall of Fame

Joseph Cummings Rowell (1853-1938)

The son of New England missionaries, Joseph C. Rowell was born in Panama in 1853. After moving to San Francisco at age five, he attended public schools and graduated from UC Berkeley in 1874. The following year he became the university’s first full-time librarian, a position he held for the next 44 years. Employed as an academic librarian before cataloging standards were widely accepted, Rowell created his own system and single-handedly cataloged Berkeley’s 13,000-volume collection. By the time he retired, the library contained nearly 400,000 volumes. Rowell also oversaw the design of two library buildings on campus—the Bacon and Doe Libraries—established the university archives, and acquired a significant collection of government and historical documents. His crowning achievement was securing H. H. Bancroft’s western Americana collection in 1905. When Rowell retired in 1919, he became the university’s first archivist, devoting his final 20 years to further developing the library’s historical collections and assisting faculty and students with their research. Rowell contributed to Poole’s Index to Periodical Literature, and published the Cooperative List of Periodical Literature (in Libraries of Central California) in 1892 and 1902. He also organized a summer training program for librarians at UC Berkeley, which ultimately evolved into the university’s library science department. Rowell was a founding member of the California Library Association and served as CLA’s first president, 1895-1897. He was active in the American Library Association as well, serving as its vice president in 1891. 


Joseph C. Rowell was inducted into the California Library Hall of Fame in 2016. For more information, please see:  

  • Benjamin Kurtz, Joseph Cummings Rowell, 1853-1938. Berkeley: University of California, 1940.

  • Peterson, Kenneth G., “Joseph C. Rowell and California’s Bacon Library.” Journal of Library History, 17 (Summer 1982): 278-90.


Photo credit:  UC Berkeley Library History Room,