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Foster E. Mohrhardt

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Title: Foster E. Mohrhardt  
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Subject: United States National Agricultural Library
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Foster E. Mohrhardt

Foster Edward Mohrhardt (March 7, 1907-1992)[1] was a United States librarian. He had a long and illustrious career in library and information science as a scholar, organizer and diplomat, and was listed by American Libraries among "100 Leaders we had in the 20th Century".[2]

Birth and education

Mohrhardt was born in Lansing, Michigan, on March 7, 1907, to Albert Mohrhardt and Alice (Bennet) Mohrhardt. He earned his A.B. degree from Michigan State University in 1929 while working as an assistant to the University Librarian. He then earned a B.S. Degree in 1930 from Columbia University and subsequently received a diploma from the University of Munich in 1932. He completed his M.A. in 1933 at the University of Michigan and was enrolled in the Ph.d program at Columbia University in 1934–35.[3]

Early career

After completing his formal education, Mohrhardt worked with William Bishop on an advisory group on junior college libraries for the Carnegie Corporation of New York from 1935 to 1937. During this time he traveled the country extensively meeting various school representatives of junior college libraries with the purpose of compiling a list of books for junior colleges. His compilation was published as List of Books for Junior College Libraries by the American Library Association (ALA) in 1937.[4]

From 1938 to 1946, he was Librarian of Washington and Lee University. During his tenure there he was responsible for completing renovations to the Library building as well as developing special collections.[1]

Military career

During World War II, the Library of Congress was interested in protecting some of its more valuable collections and Mohrhardt offered surplus space available at Washington and Lee University for this purpose. Mohrhardt also performed military service during the war, serving in both the U.S. Army Air Corps and the U.S. Navy.[1]

In 1946, he served as chief of the Library and Reports Division, Office of Technical Services. This agency was responsible for collecting, disseminating and indexing various civilian and military documents and evaluating their use in the public and private sector.[1]

Teaching librarianship

Mohrhardt then simultaneously served as a consultant at Brookhaven National Laboratory and visiting professor at Columbia University from 1947 to 1948. His activities at Brookhaven National Laboratory are unknown due to a lack of records. While at Columbia University, Mohrhardt taught courses in library management and collection development until autumn 1948 when he returned to federal service.[1]

Library directorships

Arriving at the Library Services for the Veteran's Administration, Mohrhardt worked as assistant director briefly until taking over as director. From 1948 to 1954 his responsibilities included 450 collections located domestically and overseas. He established a reputation for skillfully organizing and streamlining the procurement and cataloguing systems that endeared him for assignment to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Library.[4] Mohrhardt served as director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Library until his retirement from federal service in 1968. During his time there he helped accomplish the redesignation of the USDA Library to the National Agricultural Library, remarking that it had been a truly national library since its inception. Ever the organizer, Mohrhardt also set about reorganizing and streamlining the administration. He placed the functions of the library into four categories: Public Services, Technical Services, Field and Special Services, and Management Services. He then used these changes to facilitate coordination with various national and international agricultural libraries.[1]


During Mohrhart's time at the National Agricultural Library he was also active in numerous associations and commissions. Some positions he held included President of Association of Research Libraries, 1966, President of ALA, 1967-68, Vice President of the International Federation of Library Associations, 1965-71, President of the National Federation of Science Abstracting and Indexing Services, 1964-65, and chairman of the U.S. National Commission for FID in 1965.[4] His work with these associations, particularly the International Federation of Library Associations, demonstrated his reputation as an international diplomat. This can be characterized by one incident that occurred during a board meeting when an Eastern-bloc representative became distraught at the course of dialogue. Mohrhardt reportedly left the room and returned with a flower for the woman and was able to defuse the tense situation with his charm.[3]


Morhardt died on June 7, 1992, in Arlington, Virginia, leaving his wife Katherine, son David and daughter Katri Nowak. He experienced a long and productive career that left an indelible mark on his field. His greatest achievement was the transformation of the National Agricultural Library, establishing it alongside the Library of Congress and the National Library of Medicine as the defining institutions of their fields. In addition to this he built a reputation as a professional dedicated to the organization and use of knowledge for the public. He was able to see beyond the borders of his own nation and worked with people from around the world productively in order to ensure that knowledge was shared so all humankind could benefit.


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