The Legacy of Miss Ruth McBirney

Figure 1. Ruth McBirney, Evenlyn Evarts (left), and Lois Hansen (right).
Boise Junior College librarians. University archives photo.
A new exhibit celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Albertsons Library is now up! This second exhibit of the year showcases Ruth McBirney, Head Librarian from 1954 to 1977. But, who was this woman? Why is there an entire exhibit on her? Ruth was a key figure that helped transform Boise Junior College into Boise State University. With her strong commitment to education and to Boise State, Ruth worked effortlessly for 23 years to ensure the library kept up with academic needs.

Ruth, a Boise native, was born on January 16, 1918. Graduating from Boise High School in 1935, Ruth attended one year at Boise Junior College. A year later, Ruth entered Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, where she studied French and Music. Ruth graduated from Whitman in 1939, and later received her bachelor’s in Library Science from the University of Washington in 1940. Ruth then returned to Boise where she worked as a librarian for Boise Junior College and the Boise Public Library for two years.

In 1942, Ruth went to New York, where she worked for the Music Library at Columbia University.  Her French degree suited her well as she traveled to France to be a reference librarian in 1947. She later was appointed head librarian. Her experiences in France are well documented and can be found within her files in Special Collections and Archives. Ruth returned to Boise in 1954, when she agreed to step in as head librarian of Boise Junior College while the current head librarian was ill. Ruth would find herself in this position for the next 23 years.

Figure 2. Ruth, Robert Overstreet (Board of Trustees), and a
construction official with the cornerstone of the library, 1963.
University archives photo.
During her 23 years in that post, Boise Junior College became a four-year college and, in 1974, Boise State University. As head librarian, Ruth oversaw the construction of a new library building and built the collection from one of 20,000 volumes to one containing 300,000 volumes.

She was instrumental in bringing the congress classification system you see today. Her efforts in establishing a university archives was tremendous, having donated a few of her own personal books to get it started.

Ruth was a woman of stature and character, but was headstrong and fought for Boise State students. Under Ruth’s leadership, the Boise State library became one of the biggest and most efficient libraries in Idaho, despite its rather secluded location. During her tenure, Ruth became involved with the Soroptimist Club of Boise, served as president of the Idaho Library Association, and attended the First Presbyterian Church. With her busy schedule, Ruth always took time to do what she loved the most, traveling. While at Boise State, and after her retirement, Ruth traveled to distant places. China, France, Europe, Italy, and India are among her many destinations.

Figure 3. Ruth at her desk, 1969.
University Archives photo.
In 1977, Ruth retired from Boise State University. Her retirement prompted many acknowledgments from Boise State employees and even Senator Frank Church.

After her retirement, Ruth donated almost $16,000 to form the Lois and Chaffee Scholarship. This scholarship benefited many students studying Music, History, and English. Ruth McBirney died in Boise, Idaho on March 20, 1991.

For more information on Ruth McBirney, be sure to check out the exhibit! It will be up for the remainder of the Fall semester. Be sure to also check out the permanent exhibit located inside the Ruth McBirney room on the second floor.

All materials from this exhibit can be located in Special Collections and Archives in the Ruth McBirney files (MSS 113).

Arthur Aguilera
Student Library Assistant


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