A lifelong resident of Minneapolis, Ina Firkins was born in 1866. After her graduation from the University of Minnesota, she realized that her only career option was narrowed to teaching, which had little appeal. When, in 1889, William Watts Folwell offered her a position in the library, she gladly accepted. Her training was brief. Folwell handed her a key to the library in Old Main and told her, "open up the library in the morning and remember that if any one has to get mad in the library let it be the person on the other side of the counter." Thus began a 42-year career as a reference librarian. Firkins was appointed Acting University Librarian in 1920 after the departure of James Gerould. It was she who supervised the construction of Walter Library that was one of most state-of-the-art libraries in the country. Benefiting from Folwell’s experience she avoided the shortcomings of Burton Hall.
One of the most scholarly librarians of her time, Firkins perceived that many of the reference tools in the library were inadequate. In 1914, she compiled Index to Short Stories, and in 1926, her Index to Plays appeared, both published by H.W. Wilson and continuing in revised editions as a major resource for libraries. After her retirement in 1932, she continued to update her indexes. After the death of her brother, Oscar Firkins, a poet and professor of English at the University, she organized his papers, which were published in 1934 by University Press as Memoirs and Letters of Oscar W. Firkins. She died on shipboard near Norway in 1937.
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