Edward J. Valauskas
|Tietse Pieter Sevensma (18791966)
P. Herfst artist
Tietse Pieter Sevensma was one of the most significant Dutch librarians in the last century with remarkable influence on international librarianship for decades. Sevensma was Secretary General of the International Federation of Library Associations (now better known as the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions; the name change occurred in 1976) longer than anyone in the history of the Association. He was also the influential director of the library at the League of Nations in Geneva for over a decade. Finally, he led several important libraries in the Netherlands, including the Director of University of Leiden Library during World War II.
Tietse Pieter Sevensma was born in 1879 in Sneek, Friesland. According to a brief article in a 1929 issue of Library Journal , he studied theology, economics, and social science at the University of Amsterdam. Between 19081913, he worked at the University of Amsterdam as conservator of manuscripts. In 1913, he was appointed head of the Library of the Commercial High School in Rotterdam. A few years later, in 1916,
he became Director of the Public Library of Amsterdam. In 1924, he was also appointed Director of the University of Amsterdam Library. Sevensma was certainly not idle because, during this same period, be was EditorinChief of the Dutch encyclopedia Zoeklicht.
Certainly Sevensmas career in Dutch librarianship was meteoric. But in 1927, it took a decidedly international turn when he was appointed Director of the League of Nations Library in Geneva, Switzerland. At the time, the Library of the League filled a few rooms of the Hôtel National in Geneva. An international architectural competition was launched to create more suitable quarters for the League. Sevensma was fortunate in that John D. Rockefeller, Jr. was suitably impressed with the League and its work, and was especially mindful of the importance of an excellent library to support the activities of diplomats, scholars, and students at the League. The Rockefeller Foundation donated two million dollars in 1927 to the League for a library that promoted peace and international cooperation . This magnificent library opened in 1937, and it is still used by thousands today as part of the United Nations European Office . This library, created by Sevensmas professionalism, is a monument to his skills in dealing with the bureaucracies of the League while creating a landmark facility and collection.
In 1929, Sevensma was appointed Secretary General of the International Federation of Library Associations, a post he held until his death in 1966. Of the 11 Secretary Generals of the Federation, Sevensma held the longest tenure for almost three decades. He led the Federation to prominence as the most significant international organization for librarians in the world. Under his reign, the Federation was recognized by UNESCO as the most important organization working for libraries worldwide.
In 1938, Sevensma returned to the Netherlands to become Director of the University of Leiden Library, one of most important research collections in all of Europe. He worked diligently during World War II to protect Leidens significant collections for which generations of scholars and students from around the world are most grateful.
Tietse Pieter Sevensma was a model international librarian in the last century, providing leadership and direction in his involvement with the then fledgling International Federation of Library Associations, the Library at the League of Nations, and a number of important libraries in the Netherlands. He represented a rare breed of professional. His presence was felt in diverse ways in the past and his legacy still influences libraries and librarianship today.
1. See http://www.ifla.org/III/75ifla/sevens.htm, accessed 11 October 2005.
2. See http://www.onug.ch/80256EE60057D930/(httpPages)/BA5845BCB0112F5CC1256F2D004551B6?OpenDocument, accessed 11 October 2005.
3. Nina Kriz Leneman, 1995. A Chronological Perspective of the United Nations Office at Geneva Library (19191995), at
http://www.ifla.org/IV/ifla61/61-lenn.htm, accessed 11 October 2005.
About the Author
Edward J. Valauskas is the Follett Chair in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Dominican University.
Email: ejv [at] dom [dot] edu
© 2005 Edward J. Valauskas
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