The Reading Girl
A marble statue by American sculptor John Adams Jackson (1825-1879), the Reading Girl has resided in the Oberlin College Libraries, with one interruption, since 1885.
Today, the Reading Girl is located near the Academic Commons on the main floor of the Mary Church Terrell Main Library, but her history features a journey remembered by generations of Oberlin students. She has witnessed the growth of the Oberlin College Libraries, represents the opportunities the college has provided women scholars, and is a reminder of the value of physical books in the digital era.
She served as a focal point for the central reading rooms of the old Spear and Carnegie libraries before finding a permanent home in the Mudd Center as part of the Mary Church Terrell Main Library. The sculpture was placed in storage sometime in the early '50s, and former director of libraries William A. Moffett arranged to move the Reading Girl to her present location on the main level of the Mudd Center in the early '80s. Since then, Oberlin students have embellished her with various articles of clothing and props over the years (she sports a size 6 sneaker most of the time).
Jackson modeled the sculpture in Florence, Italy, in 1869. It was purchased by Aaron A. Healy of Brooklyn, New York, who later gave it to Oberlin College. At the dedication of Spear Library, Healy’s uncle, Professor A.H. Currier, noted her "singular fitness" for the library of the college that "first opened its doors to young women seeking higher education."
The Reading Girl is one of the few unchanging aspects of the library in the Internet age. Her enduring presence reminds us of the longevity of our collections, and of a time when those primarily print materials were housed in one location. She also reflects the centrality of the library's collections and services to the academic mission of Oberlin College and Conservatory.
The Oberlin College Observer featured an article about the Reading Girl in 1980.