Encyclopedia Brunoniana

Koopman, Harry Lyman

Harry Lyman Koopman (1860-1937), librarian from 1893 to 1930, was born in Freeport, Maine, on July 1, 1860. He graduated from Colby College in 1880. In 1881, after a brief teaching experience, he went to work at the Astor Library. In 1883 he became a cataloger at Cornell University, a job he subsequently held at Columbia, Rutgers and the University of Vermont. In 1893 he received a master of arts degree from Harvard and was appointed Librarian of Brown University, a position from which he retired thirty-seven years later. During his tenure, the size of the library grew from 80,000 to 400,000, and the John Hay Library was built in 1910. He said that he had two of the greatest satisfactions that a librarian can enjoy, a new library and the opportunity to launch some of his “disciples,” or student assistants, on a library career. Well known in the library world, Koopman was elected president of the American Library Association in 1928. He was opposed to censorship, and, in 1929, delivered an outspoken commentary on the policy of the Customs Department in barring works by such authors as Rousseau, Balzac and Bocaccio: “Every college in the country will have to ‘shut up shop’ if this continues. ... If these books are going to be banned, they ought to go through with it and bar the Old Testament.”

Koopman was also a poet. He wrote his first published poem in 1875, and later contributed prose and poetry to the college monthly at Columbia. His first book, an ode to Farragut entitled The Great Admiral, was published in 1883. His other books of poetry included Morrow Songs in 1898, At the Gates of the Century in 1905, The Librarian and the Desert in 1908, and Hesperia, an American National Poem in two volumes, 1919-1924. His service to Brown went far beyond the library. In 1895 he published the Historical Catalogue of Brown University. He was associate editor of the Brown Alumni Monthly from 1906 to 1917. He taught a course on “Books and Libraries.” He was named professor of bibliography in 1908. In October 1930 he began to write a regular column, “Planets and Stars,” for the Providence Journal. He died on December 28, 1937. His last “Planets and Stars” column was published posthumously on January 1, 1938. In his plans for the column in the new year, he had written, “During the present year, we shall devote our space to stars that we cannot see unless, in Horace’s phrase, we ‘change our skies.’”