The University’s first president and librarian was born on February 14, 1833 in Romulus, New York. He received his education from Racine and Hobart Colleges. After serving in the Civil War and a brief career as a businessman and mathematics professor, he accepted the Presidency of the University of Minnesota in 1869. Shortly after his arrival, he assumed the title of University Librarian. Folwell’s plan for the library is outlined in his inaugural address delivered on December 22, 1869. He stated, "The University will accumulate and maintain a great library, to which citizens can resort for complete information on any useful subject. Next to instruction, the library is the great interest of the University." This vision of the Library as a statewide resource continues to guide the Library today.

Folwell adopted the Dewey Decimal Classification in 1895, the same year that Burton Hall was built to house the Library. In 1884, Folwell retired from the presidency at age 51, but continued to hold the title of Professor of Political Science and Librarian. In 1907, he again retired to devote himself to writing his four-volume History of Minnesota (Minnesota Historical Society, 1922), which is still a basic tool for research in Minnesota history. Folwell died in 1929 at the age of 96.

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