Karl T. Jacobsen was born on August 28, 1879, in Decorah, IA, and died in LaCrosse, WI, on January 16, 1963.
Jacobsen graduated from Luther College in 1902. He returned to the college as an instructor from 1903-1904, just prior to receiving his M.A. from the University of Wisconsin in 1906. After a one-year part-time library apprenticeship at the State Historical Society library in Madison, WI, he moved on to Washington, D.C., where he became a cataloger for the Library of Congress. In 1911, he joined the University of Chicago library as a classifier, eventually being appointed head classifier in 1916.
After the construction of Koren Library in 1920, Jacobsen returned to Luther College, where he served as the library’s first full-time, professionally trained librarian. At this time, Koren Library was equipped with about 40,000 books, pamphlets, and reference works. Jacobsen dedicated himself to expanding and organizing the library’s materials, and based on his earlier experience at the Library of Congress, spearheaded the reclassification of the collection to the Library of Congress system. In addition, he trained a number of students who went on to be successful in the field of library science. While serving at the college, he also took an interest in encouraging the development of Decorah’s public library, which in 1922 held a meager 3,000 books.
Both directly and indirectly, Jacobsen oversaw the organization of several libraries across the country and Canada. He served as a consultant in the reorganization of the libraries at both Chicago Lutheran Theological Seminary in Maywood, Illinois, and Central Lutheran Theological Seminary in Fremont, Nebraska. He took a direct part in the organization of the library at Pacific Lutheran Seminary in Berkeley, California, and initiated the organization of the library at Luther Seminary, in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
During this period, Jacobsen directed the reorganization of the library at Luther Theological Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. After retiring from Luther College in 1949, he returned to the Seminary to serve as a librarian until 1953. Upon his return to Luther College in 1953, Jacobsen worked periodically on the manuscript collections in Koren Library.
Jacobsen served on the editorial committee for the book Luther College Through Sixty Years, published in 1922. He also contributed articles to the Library Quarterly and other professional journals. His articles on college library reorganization were used as regular reference material in college library administration in several library schools.
For his extensive work in college librarianship, Jacobsen received two honorary degrees, a Doctor of Literature degree from Carthage College in 1934, and another degree from Luther Theological Seminary in 1952.
Portrait: Karl Jacobsen by Fridtjof Schroder, LC 1943
Fine Arts Collection #057
Ref: Obituary, Decorah Journal, Jan. 17, 1963; “The Public Library,” The Decorah Republican, Dec. 14, 1922; “Prof. Jacobsen Given Doctor of Literature Degree,” Decorah Journal, June 13, 1934; Nelson, David T. Luther College, 1861-1961. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961; Luther College Through Sixty Years, 1861-1921. Minneapolis: Augsburg Press, 1922.