Union Notables

Ruth Anne Evans    librarian


Ruth Anne Evans. Peter Blankman, c. 1990, silver gelatin photograph image courtesy of Special Collections, Shaffer Library, Union College

Ruth Anne Evans was by all accounts one of the most accomplished librarians and one of the most knowledgeable college historians ever to work at Union College.  As a librarian at the College for thirty-seven years, Evans earned a reputation by helping hundreds of students research topics from protozoa to the history of World War II.  To many students and faculty, however, she was best known as the principal reference for anyone wanting to know anything about Union's history. As a colleague once said, "If Ruth Anne doesn't know it, it didn't happen."

A native of Schenectady, Ruth Anne began working at the Union College Library in the summer of 1944 when she was an undergraduate at Smith College.  After graduation, she came to work at Union full-time, but in 1947 she left to attend Columbia University, at the urging of Union library director Helmer Webb. She received a B.S. degree from the School of Library Science in 1948.  After a short stint as assistant cataloger at Colgate, she returned to the Union Library in 1952 and stayed until she retired in 1989. Beginning as an assistant cataloguer, she also held the positions of cataloguer, reference librarian, acquisitions librarian, circulation librarian, assistant librarian, head of collection development, and, on occasion, acting library director.  In 1973 she was made full professor and was the first woman on the Union College faculty to be given that rank.

After her retirement in 1989, Ruth Anne continued to come to Schaffer Library nearly every day to work on two projects of great historical importance for Union College: the Diary of Jonathan Pearson (2004) and the Encyclopedia of Union College History (2003). She assisted Union President emeritus Harold C. Martin on the Pearson project, a transcription of the extensive diaries of long-time 19th-century Union treasurer Jonathan Pearson; and she provided invaluable research and insight for editor Wayne Somers (Union class of 1961) on the Encyclopedia, an 800-page compendium of Union College history.

Although the roles of college and university librarians have changed since the days when Ruth Anne began her career, her mission to be of service to students and the campus community is one which is carried on by her successors at Schaffer Library and elsewhere. Her greatest service was to make the history of Union College known and more accessible to students, faculty, staff, and administration.  Ruth Anne firmly believed that Union's history was worth knowing and preserving.  "She just had an incredible amount of information in her head. She was like a walking version of the College archives" long-time colleague and Head of Special Collections Ellen Fladger once noted. "The amazing thing about Ruth Anne is that even if she didn't know the answer, she knew where to find it, and to me that is the mark of a really good librarian."

At her retirement in 1989 Emeritus Professor Carl Niemeyer composed a poem in Ruth Anne's honor. The last few lines of this poem express the regard in which she was held by everyone at Union College:

"So farewell to Ruth Anne Evans, who now is leaving Schaffer!

For when she dwelt among us the Word was somehow safer.

She leaves behind a legacy that - thankfully - will last.

Her gifts in future may be equaled. They can never be surpassed."