Marion Sparks

Marion Sparks brought fundamental change to the field of chemistry when she published “Chemical Literature and Its Use” as a first of its kind college student directory of the literature of chemistry. Sparks believed it was important for chemists and chemical engineers to know how to find and access the most recent research in order to continue innovating in these fields.

Marion E. Sparks was born December 5, 1872, in Miller Township. She attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign from 1892-1900, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in classics in 1895, a Bachelor of Library Science in 1899, and a Master of Arts in classics in 1900.

Marion Sparks standing in front of stairs
Marion Sparks. Photo courtesy University of Illinois Archives

In her post-graduate years, Sparks took various positions in the Midwest as a library organizer until 1904 when she returned to Urbana to become a bibliographer for the University. She would become Library Assistant of the University Chemistry Library in 1912 and later be promoted to the librarian of the chemistry library, the first departmental library. She would hold this position until her death.

She self published Chemical Literature and Its Use, which discussed how library materials are classified and recommended training approaches for students when using these materials for research. It was a required reading for all University of Illinois juniors in chemistry and chemical engineering. As this bibliographical textbook was one of the first of its kind, Spark’s work attracted wide attention in the United States and Europe. Requests for copies were popular among university libraries, public libraries, and industrial chemistry libraries.

While at the University, Sparks also authored A Census of the Periodical Literature of Chemistry published in the United States (1917), and Some Recent and Readable Books in General Science (1920). Both contained recent scientific publications. She also conducted some private studies, one being “Birds vs. Street Cars” from the Wilson Bulletin about the impact of new electric interurban street cars on the area’s bird activity. In the early 1920s, she also oversaw the remodeling of the Chemistry Library.

Library with tables and chairs. Text underneath photo says Chemistry Library in November 1892 First Departmental Library at the University of Illinois. Photo by W.E. Tower '94
Chemistry Library, 1892. Photo courtesy University of Illinois Archives.

Sparks remained at Illinois until her death on February 10, 1929. A plaque dedicated to her memory was placed at the Chemistry Library in April of 1930 and remains there today.

  • Chemistry Library: you can view the plaque dedicated to Marion Sparks at the Chemistry Library.


Beckman, A. O. (Ed.). (1922). Books And More Books. Illinois Chemist, 6(2).

Lohmann, K. B. 100 Houses of Urbana, Illinois: Who Lived in Them and When? Urbana, Illinois: K. B. Lohmann, 1961.

 Marion E. Sparks Papers 1917-1928. Record Series 35/3/21. University of Illinois Archives. 

Sparks, M. E. (1919). Chemical Literature And Its Use. Self-published.

Sparks, M. E. (1920). Some Recent and Readable Books in General Science. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Sparks, M. E., & Noyes, W. A. (1917). A Census of the Periodical Literature of Chemistry Published in the United States. Science, 45(1155), 168–171.

Contributors: Chris Gimbel