James Louis Gillis

James Louis Gillis (October 3, 1857 – July 27, 1917)[1][2] was an American librarian.

James Louis Gillis
James Louis Gillis.jpg
Born3 October 1857 Edit this on Wikidata
Washington County Edit this on Wikidata
Died27 July 1917 Edit this on Wikidata (aged 59)
Sacramento Edit this on Wikidata
OccupationLibrarian Edit this on Wikidata
ChildrenMabel R. Gillis Edit this on Wikidata
  • California Library Hall of Fame Edit this on Wikidata


Gillis was born in Richmond, Iowa in 1857. By the time he was 14, his family had settled in Sacramento, California. Gillis then dropped out of school to become a messenger boy for a subsidiary of the Southern Pacific Railroad, the Sacramento Valley Railroad Company. After the Pullman railroad strike, Gillis retired from his position of assistant superintendent, having spent 22 years with Southern Pacific.

Gillis was extremely active with the Republican party when he retired, and because of connections he made politically, he became the archivist for the office of the Secretary of State of California in 1895. After a series of state positions, Gillis was appointed California State Librarian in 1899.[3] Though most of his previous work experience did not include library topics, Gillis was nonetheless attracted to the job. Librarian Anne Margrave stated,

His sense of humor made him joke a little at himself as State Librarian, considering his limited education and his previous experience, which had had little indeed to do with libraries. He had laughed heartily, he said, when someone first suggested that he seek the appointment [as State Librarian]. But as he thought it over, he began to think it would be rather a good job to bring order out of chaos, which was the condition then of the California State Library.[4]

Gillis was interested in organizing the chaotic library system and wanted it to benefit the whole community, not just capital officials. He served as California State Librarian from 1899 until his death in 1917. In that role, Gillis expanded the State Library’s services, established the California History Room, the California Research Bureau, a traveling library program, and library services for the blind in the state of California. He also established California’s county library system in 1909.[5][6][7]

Gillis served as the President of the California Library Association from 1906 to 1916. He was inducted into the California Library Hall of Fame in 2012.[8]



  1. ^ "James Louis Gillis". California American History and Genealogy Project. Retrieved 29 February 2016.
  2. ^ Basofin, Pete (February 26, 2012). "In History's Spotlight: James L. Gillis". Sacramento Bee. Retrieved 29 February 2016.
  3. ^ Hansen, D. G. (2004). Professionalizing library education, the California connection: James Gillis, Everett Perry, and Joseph Daniels. Library Trends, (4), 963.
  4. ^ (James Gillis Bio File, August 1, 1957, CSL)
  5. ^ Conmy, Peter Thomas (December 1959). "James Louis Gillis, Westerner and Librarian: A Professional Biography". Wilson Library Bulletin. 34: 272–283.
  6. ^ Kunkle, Hannah Josephine (1969). A Historical Study of the Extension Activities of the California State Library with Particular Emphasis on its Role in Rural Library Development, 1850–1966 (PhD dissertation ed.). Florida State University.
  7. ^ Hansen, Debra Gold (2013). "Depoliticizing the California State Library: The Political and Professional Transformation of James Gillis, 1899-17". Information & Culture: A Journal of History. 48 (1): 68–90. doi:10.1353/lac.2013.0004.
  8. ^ "James Gillis (1857–1917)". California Library Hall of Fame. California Library Association. Retrieved 29 February 2016.

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