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Liz Kelly, Longtime Director of Biddle Law Library and Force Behind its Transformation, Dies at 72

July 26, 2010
Elizabeth Slusser Kelly

Elizabeth (“Liz”) Slusser Kelly, who through her leadership transformed a once-moribund Biddle Law Library into a modern space for research and the centerpiece of Tanenbaum Hall, died on July 14 at the age of 72.

As chair of the Tanenbaum Hall Building Committee, Kelly drove the process to create, in her words, a “serene and luminous” world-class library for study and research. During a span of 17 years as director of the Biddle Law Library, Kelly also expanded the information technology and media services departments; substantially increased the archival collection; and spearheaded an effort to fund the library through the founding of the Friends of Biddle.
“In the short time that I worked with her as dean, I observed Liz’ dynamism,” said Michael A. Fitts, dean of Penn Law School. “She was a tireless advocate for Biddle. Liz Kelly presided over the rebirth of Biddle Law Library, and for this she will forever hold an important place in Penn Law history.”
Added Dean of Students Gary Clinton, “I had the pleasure and honor of working with Liz on the Tanenbaum Hall project from its inception to its opening.  Liz’ vision of a world-class law library with its many manifestations made the project what it became, and the fact that it still serves so effectively twenty years after planning commenced is a testament to her work.
“I used to joke with Liz that every bolt, every cable, every shelf, room, door, chair and window had her imprint on it, and I still feel that way,” Clinton continued. “Our students, staff and faculty have been well-served by Liz Kelly’s vision and indomitable energy, and we remain in her debt.”
Kelly became director of the Biddle Law Library in 1984, after serving in that position at Southern Illinois School of Law. She made an immediate impact. One year into the job she framed her mission: to make the Penn Law library a truly great research center.
She set out to transform an old, overcrowded and disorganized library, then located on the second floor of what is now Silverman Hall.  Among her first initiatives was to establish a classification system modeled after the Library of Congress. She also moved the most requested books to ground level, beginning a turnaround in customer service which became one of the hallmarks of her tenure.
Several years later, in the early 1990s, Kelly’s push for more space came to fruition, when the trustees, acting on the advice of the dean and faculty, decided to tear down the student dormitories to make way for Tanenbaum Hall, the school’s first new building in 30 years.
The 72,000-square-foot Tanenbaum Hall was completed in 1993. It contained seminar rooms, Career Planning and Placement and Public Service offices, areas for the student law journals, and a student lounge whose landmark is “The Clock.”
With its vaulted ceilings, wall-length windows, private study areas, striking curved stairway, and high-tech accoutrements, Biddle Law Library formed the centerpiece, one in which 480 students – 160 more than previous capacity - could stretch out in the spacious and functional environment.
One hundred and ten miles of cable were laid throughout the building, making the new Biddle Law Library a haven for research. The wired library afforded students, alumni and faculty unfettered access to a worldwide network of data. All in all, the project represented a watershed in the Law School’s history.
Longing for her summer home on the shores of Lake Huron in Michigan, Kelly retired in 2001, dividing her time between her beloved retreat and a residence in Oro Valley, Arizona. Soon after her retirement, Kelly received the Distinguished Service Award from the Law Alumni Society and became the first female emeritus faculty member in the history of Penn Law School.
Upon Kelly’s retirement, professor Stephen B. Burbank, who chaired the search committee for a new library director in 1983, reflected: “The Biddle Law Library was in a very sorry state indeed when Liz Kelly was appointed. The transformation for which she is largely responsible has been nothing short of remarkable in every dimension. Grossly underfunded, inefficiently staffed, not notably friendly to its patrons, and a technological dinosaur when she arrived, Biddle has regained its historic place among the great law school libraries in the country.”
Survivors include husband Matthew; sons Mark and Michael; daughters Sarah and Margaret C. Horn; sister Margaret Griess; brother Father Michael Stephen Slusser; and nine grandchildren.
Condolences may be sent to her family in care of Matthew Kelly, PO Box 946, Pointe Aux Pins, Michigan 49775.