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In Memoriam: Margaret A. Otto, 1937-2006

16th Librarian of Dartmouth College

Margaret A. Otto, 16th librarian of Dartmouth, died at age 69 on Sunday, Dec. 10, in Hanover following a courageous battle with cancer.

Margaret A. Otto
Margaret A. Otto (Photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

President James Wright says, "Margaret was a wonderful colleague and friend-and for so many years stewarded Dartmouth libraries to best serve our faculty and students. We will surely miss her, but her legacy lives on in so many ways on the Dartmouth campus and beyond."

Otto became the first woman to lead the Dartmouth College Library in 1979. Under her directorship, which spanned 21 years, the library made major advances. Foremost among her many successes was her establishment of a strong service ethic across the libraries and a dedication to customer service among her staff. She is also remembered for the growth of collections and the development of access tools she oversaw while at Dartmouth.

She foresaw the coming information technology revolution and positioned the library to embrace the digital age through the creation of one of the first online library catalogs in the country. Throughout her career she continued to support the early adoption of new electronic services and resources, recognizing the value they brought to faculty and students. She understood the historic importance of the library's collections, creating a preservation department to ensure their long-term conservation, and overseeing the acquisition of the two millionth volume to the collection.

Also during her tenure a number of major library building projects were completed, including the construction of both the Matthews-Fuller Biomedical Library at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and Berry Library in Hanover, the renovation of Webster Hall for the Rauner Special Collections Library, and the expansion of the Paddock Music Library.

Prior to her tenure at Dartmouth, Otto was employed from 1964 to 1979 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Libraries. She began her career there as assistant science librarian, rising to become the associate director. She was a longtime member of the American Library Association and was an active participant on many committees and professional organizations from the state to the national level. She served on the Executive Board of the Association of Research Libraries, was a member of the Board of Governors for the Research Libraries Group, and served on a number of important working groups and committees for that organization. She was also active at the local level and served as a member of the corporation for the Howe Library in Hanover.

Born in Boston on Oct. 22, 1937, Otto received a bachelor's degree from Boston University in 1960 with a major in English literature. She received a Master of Science degree in 1963 from Simmons College School of Library Science and a Master of Arts in English literature from Simmons in 1970.

Upon her retirement in 2000 she split her residence between her two loves-the community of Hanover and Dartmouth and the ocean off of Cape Cod.
Jeffrey Horrell, current dean of libraries and librarian of the College says, "Margaret Otto's gentle but determined leadership helped shape the Dartmouth College Library in an era of emerging technologies. For Margaret, technology was not an end in itself, but for how it could transform discovery, teaching, research, and learning for the Dartmouth community. Her legacy lives in our work every day and we are so grateful for it. Throughout her career, Margaret remained a modest person and was known for her quick and sharp wit and sense of humor."

She is survived by her two sons, Christopher and Peter, a professor of mathematics at Willamette University in Salem, Ore., and his wife, Susan; her two grandchildren, Tobin and Quinlin; her sister, Joan, and her husband John, of Sudbury, Mass.; her niece Nicole, of Somerville, Mass.; and her nephew John-David and his wife Megan of Cambridge, Mass.

A memorial service was held Dec. 15 at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Hanover. Contributions in her memory may be made to the Upper Valley Humane Society and the Salvation Army.

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Last Updated: 12/17/08