When Beverlee French (B.A. ’71, M.L.S. ’73) applied to graduate school at UC Berkeley’s School of Librarianship, she was selected to receive the merit-based Sydney B. Mitchell Scholarship. “It was very valuable,” French said. “It paid for about half my expenses each month and allowed me to focus on the program and to graduate debt-free.” The fund was created by the school’s alumni association in 1956 to honor Mitchell, the school’s first director, who helped establish the graduate School of Librarianship in 1926.
French respected the legacy left by Mitchell, whose lifetime (1878–1951) spanned an amazing period of growth in the U.S. and in the field of library science. In 1999, he was posthumously named one of the 100 most important leaders in library science by the American Libraries journal. He was equally renowned as a skilled horticulturist and author of 14 books on gardening — a passion that French shares. As the scale of the Mitchell support diminished in time, the fund was combined with other pools of support, rendering recognition of Mitchell by name as obsolete.
In Mitchell’s honor, French has made a generous gift to increase the annual Mitchell award so that it provides comparable support in today’s dollars to students in the Masters of Information Management Systems (MIMS) program. The scholarship will relieve students of roughly half the annual costs of their studies, and revive the Mitchell Scholarship as a named award and honor to selected recipients.
French first attended UC Berkeley as an undergraduate, which is when she began to think about becoming a librarian. “I majored in the social sciences, and I loved researching things — exploring obscure branch libraries, archives, and materials in storage,” she recalled. “I wondered how I could pursue a profession in the kind of intellectual environment I found at Berkeley.”
Upon graduation from Berkeley, French enjoyed a career that evolved in tandem with the growth of information science. “It wasn’t so long ago that the library was our greatest resource for recorded knowledge, and librarians were our first information management professionals,” she said.
Her first professional job was in the UC San Diego Library, which launched a lifelong career within the UC system. The high point of her UC experience, she said, was working for the California Digital Library, founded by the University of California in 1997 as a collaborative enterprise to utilize emerging technologies that ultimately changed the way digital information was published and accessed. “My title was Director of Shared Content, but I liked to say that I was the Director of Shared Content,” French emphasized. “My job was to get all the campuses to work together and to keep them happy.”
Now retired, French is pleased to be part of the new information age. “From using punch cards to searching the first online databases, libraries have always been at the forefront of embracing automation,” she said. “A prestigious school like Berkeley needs to remain state-of-the-art. So I’m pleased that I can still be connected to the Cal community and help the School of Information, as the successor to the School of Librarianship, to stay strong.”
“I'm grateful the Mitchell Scholarship has helped lessen the burden of school debt, and that I can learn from the example of information professionals like Sydney Mitchell and Beverlee French,” said Mandy Leung (MIMS ’21), the scholarship’s current recipient. “It’s been inspiring to learn more about their lives and careers that also evolved during tumultuous times in our nation and the world, and across dramatic technological change. I'm proud to be part of the School of Information and School of Librarianship intellectual lineage, and hope my contributions as a Berkeley alumna will also benefit the greater good."
Leung’s work has focused on the strategic use of data to advance the mission of international literacy organizations. In the summer of 2020, she will begin a summer internship with NASA.
“With current costs of higher education, private support like Beverlee’s generous gift is even more critical today than when she was a student in the 1970s,” said Head of School and Associate Dean Steve Weber, who also directs the Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity (CLTC). “We’re enormously grateful to library school alumni like Beverlee for continuing to pay forward their support to I School students today. It’s a strong recognition of the continuity of our work which is to organize information, discern fact from misinformation, grow useful knowledge, and be a positive influence on a society where people, information, and technology intersect.”
French has also committed to include UC Berkeley in her estate plan, earning her membership in a giving recognition program known as the Wheeler Society, named for Berkeley’s former President Benjamin Ide Wheeler (1899–1919). Wheeler had the great foresight to anticipate the essential role that philanthropic support, including planned gifts, would play in sustaining the University. For information on supporting School of Information students contact firstname.lastname@example.org.