At the invitation of President Andrew Draper, Katharine Lucinda Sharp (1865-1907) came to the university in the fall of 1893 to establish a professional library program and to build a major library. For four years prior to that, she had occupied a similar position at the library school she started at Armour Institute in Chicago, a technical school, and when she moved to Urbana, she brought her students with her. Serving ably until 1907, she pushed the school from a one-year sequence of classes to a four-year course of studies leading to a bachelor's degree and tried, without success, to introduce a graduate program. (That was accomplished in 1911.) Today the UI Graduate School of Library and Information Science, which began as the earliest library school in the nation to be part of a university, has consistently been ranked first.
Taft made his low-relief, half-size portrait of Sharp from photographs, representing her as a dignified young woman in academic robes. During the working period, a minor dispute arose over the use of the appellation "Founder" in the inscription, but Taft balked at the possibility of having to redesign the lettering at that late date. "The more I experiment, the worse the tangle," he complained. "The spacing is all changed, the balance is lost and I see no satisfactory solution without remodeling the entire inscription." Fortunately, the cavilling ceased and he proceeded with his original plan.
Inscribed across the lower portion of the plaque are the words, "Nobility of character and grace of person were united with intellectual vigor and scholarly attainments. She inspired her students and associates with sound standards of librarianship and ideals of service."
The sculpture, said the journal Public Libraries at the time of the plaque's dedication in 1922, typifies "young womanhood prepared and able to meet the duties of her new environment. Mr. Taft, as was to be expected, has caught and expressed the ideals of the young professional woman at the beginning of the twentieth century which Miss Sharp truly exemplified in her attitude toward library service.... (The sculpture) is worthy of study by the oncoming ranks of librarians."