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Jesse Rader
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Photo of Jesse Lee Rader“When chaos rules the world we must not lose track of real knowledge and what it is.” — Jesse Lee Rader, “College Libraries and National Defense,” Oklahoma Library Association Annual Conference, Tulsa, October 16, 1941

Jesse Lee Rader’s involvement in libraries and the foundation of the Oklahoma Library Association correspond almost perfectly. Rader enrolled at the University of Oklahoma in 1904 and subsequently earned a bachelor’s degree in 1908 and a master’s degree in 1913. During his sophomore year financial necessity caused him to leave the football team to work full-time in the University Libraries (he later returned to the team and played end his junior and senor years). As a library assistant Rader worked directly with Milton J. Ferguson, who was then University Librarian and later became the first president of the Association.

The 1908 Mistletoe, the OU yearbook, speculated that Rader may have been born in the library. Rader was one of two of Ferguson’s student employees present at the May 16, 1907 organizational meeting that resulted in the establishment of OLA.

Rader was appointed Acting Director at the time of Ferguson’s retirement in 1908 and accepted continuing responsibility as Director in 1909, a role in which he continued until his retirement in 1951. In 1920 Rader established a summer program for the education of librarians as a precursor to the establishment of the School of Library Science, which was founded in September 1929 as a department in the College of Arts and Sciences, with Rader doing double duty as University Librarian and Director of the School.

In a profile featured in the October 1956 issue of the Oklahoma Librarian, author Lee B. Spencer wrote of Jesse Lee Rader:

Mr. Rader not only knows books, but he knows people.  His impressive tenure was marked by his warm and inspiring relations with his staff, his colleagues, his fellow Oklahoma librarians, and most of all, with library science students.  There are few, if any, librarians of Mr. Rader's period who fail to think of him nostalgically when the rich aroma of a good cigar floats down some institutional corridor. Good books, good conversation, and good company in Jesse Rader's thinking called for good cigars.

Mr. Rader was at his best in the complex world of bibliography and rare books. He could draw excited gasps from the most casual visitor by his masterly presentation of some typographical gem or some bookbinder's tour de force. With library science students and graduate students in all fields he was counsel at its best. He cut through red tape for them with a spirit just short of iconoclasm–he stood for no nonsense–academic or otherwise. He probably deserves mention in various dissertation acknowledgements more than many official committeemen.1

Rader contributed significantly to the University and to OLA. He was an accomplished scholar whose works included South of Forty, From the Mississippi to the Rio Grande, A Bibliography and Readings in Oklahoma History, which he co-edited with Edward Everett Dale. Rader was active in OLA throughout his career and in 1950 became one of the first recipients of the Association’s Distinguished Service Award.

Jesse Lee Rader died in June of 1973 at the age of 90.  The OU School of Library and Information Studies offers an annual scholarship in his honor.

1Lee B. Spencer, “Jesse Lee Rader: South of Forty-Three,” Oklahoma Librarian 6, no. 4 (October 1956): 84.

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