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Kuhn, Warren

Published onMar 12, 2021
Kuhn, Warren

Warren Kuhn, 2017

Commissioned by University Museums and the University Library. U2017.111

WARREN KUHN, Emeritus Professor and retired Dean of Library Services, was affectionately known as Mr. Library wherever he went. His career at Iowa State was marked with a major expansion of research and study space, special collections, and the inauguration of private endowments to ensure the future success of the library as the “heart of a university.”

“I grew up in Jersey City, New Jersey, the son of a policeman and a homemaker,” Kuhn said. “I began my career in 1946 at the New York Public Library, and spent the next 44 years serving libraries.”

Among his many appointments, Kuhn was assistant university librarian for circulation at Princeton University from 1956-1965, where he developed the Julian Street Library. He was assistant director of libraries at Stanford University, where he headed the J. Henry Meyer Undergraduate Library.

Kuhn came to Iowa State in 1967 as the library director. He was named the first Dean in 1971, and served until his retirement in 1989. He shepherded the 1983 addition to the University Library (rededicated as the Parks Library), which won national awards for the architects. But it was Kuhn’s foresight with the addition that allowed for the library to serve well into the future, with the inclusion of flexible plenum flooring, compact mobile stacks, and expanded technology including an online catalog.

To widen research options, Kuhn created a new department for Special Collections and University Archives. This allowed acquisition of historic records of key Iowa and national leaders, among them Nobel Laureate Dr. Norman Borlaug (of World Food Prize fame), Iowa’s Garst-Thomas Seed Company, and countless others.

“I believed that private funding is also essential in broadening the Library’s role within the university,” Kuhn said. “During my tenure, I was pleased to see our collections triple in size, new departments and services develop and the organization and staff completely remodeled.”

A proponent of staff recognition, Kuhn initiated the Margaret Mae Gross Endowment to honor his assistant, the Library’s longest serving staff member (48 years). A veteran of World War II and the Korean War, he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal in Korea.

Kuhn passed away in 2018. His son, Robert Warren Kuhn, of Ames, survives him.

Former Dean of Library Services, Beth McNeil (2017): Warren Kuhn led the university library from 1967 to 1989, and it is due to his vision and persistence that the iconic addition to the University Library in 1984 was made possible, and then named after President and Mrs. Parks the next year.

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