Lisa Rolf was the first city librarian in Lund, and she laid the foundations of the modern library system in Lund.
Lisa Rolf was born in 1886, as the second child in a wealthy family in Stockholm. Her mother, Anna Möller, was the daughter of a building contractor and had married the well-known architect Ludvig Peterson. That the three children, Lisa Rolf, her older brother Bruno and younger sister Carina, were given another surname is said to be the result of their father regarding the name Peterson as being too commonplace. He therefore gave his children his son’s second name as their surname. The family had both economic resources and cultural interests and all three children attended colleges of higher education. Bruno became a meteorologist and Carina a domestic science teacher.
Lisa Rolf was intensely interested in arts subjects. After her matriculation at the Lyceum for girls, she therefore chose to attend not the Stockholm College with its orientation towards natural sciences, but rather Uppsala University, where she would be able to concentrate on art history, the history of religion and theoretical philosophy. Her time at Uppsala was in many ways to shape the rest of her life. She did not belong to the first generation of women students, but when she was enrolled in the Stockholm section of the students’ union in 1906, women students were still a rarity. They were often treated as curiosities or even unnatural, and they had neither access to university services nor the same curriculum as the men. Lisa Rolf’s permanent impression of that time was that of being there on sufferance, always having to struggle but never being good enough. This probably cemented the damaged self-esteem that characterises the diaries that she left behind, her ”books of judgement” as she called them, in which she continually questioned her own abilities.
An important feature of the years at Uppsala was the fellowship with other women students, in the student union section and outside the university. There were also not least the Uppsala women students’ association and the women students’ hockey club. Lisa Rolf’s closest friends were Ellen Landquist,whom she called Murre, Greta Beckius and the one year younger Emilia Fogelklou, whom Lisa Rolf called Vesle in her letters. In her autobiography Barhuvad from 1950, Emilia Fogelklou described the trio of modern women students in admiring terms: ”They battled with various aspects of the new woman’s struggle, acutely aware, also erotically. /…/ Somehow they bore double burdens.” Lisa Rolf was described as a thinker and a seeker ”of the most honest kind”, who was ”the only Uppsala comrade who showed any interest in Mi’s [Emilia Fogelklou’s] philosophical reflections.” The double burdens for a modern woman of striving for intellectual equality as well as erotic equality came in the end to exact a tragic price when their comrade Greta Beckius committed suicide in 1912. It was probably only after her death that her student comrades learned that she had had complicated relationships with both Ellen Landquist’s brother John and Lisa Rolf’s brother Bruno during their years in Uppsala and after.
Lisa Rolf dreamed about continuing her studies with a licentiate qualification, but she was also compelled to support herself. She wrote sporadic reviews in the women’s periodicals Hertha and Tidevarvet and assisted Emilia Fogelklou as picture editor for her book Ur fromhetslivets svenska historia. However, above all she worked as a teacher for different periods at the folk high schools Hvilan, Hampnäs and Jakobsberg. When she resumed her studies in earnest, she did so at Lund University, where she studied at the higher seminar for the history of religion and became intellectually captivated by Martin P:son Nilsson’s philological working methods. It was probably there she was exposed to crushing plagiarism by a male student comrade, with the consequence that she felt compelled to leave Lund for Uppsala, despite blaming herself in her diaries for her cowardliness. In 1922, her licentiate dissertation was approved. It was entitled Den grekiska väderleksmagien, and has only been saved in the family’s private archive. It was not until 1928, however, that she finalised her licentiate examination, then at the Stockholm College.
In the meantime, Lisa Rolf’s professional life had taken a new turning. While she was doing a summer job at the Hvilan folk high school in 1921, she had already completed a short course on library care, her teacher being library consultant Knut Tynell from the Royal Board for Schools (Kungl. Skolöverstyrelsen). She was immediately enthusiastic over the possibilities for popular education that the just recently started public library project looked like offering. During the years 1923–1925, she acquired practical experience at the library in Helsingborg and its branch in Råå. Her organisational and pedagogical talents along with her easy cooperativeness led to immediate promotion. In 1926, however, she returned to Stockholm, to be enrolled as one of 35 candidates accepted for the first state-run professional education for librarians. The course was four months long, from January to May. It was organised by the library consultants at the Royal Board for Schools. After probationary duty at the Lund University Library, Lisa Rolf was appointed the same year to the city library in Stockholm, as yet not officially inaugurated. There she was appointed as among other things head of the branch library in Värtan, that during her period of service was highlighted as a good example in Biblioteksbladet (The library paper), with the record number of five books borrowed per inhabitant.
Nonetheless, the same year, 1927, she chose to apply once again to Lund. Lund had had four parallel library systems during the 1920s: city library, private adult education libraries, the Lund workers’ library and the university library that was not open to the general public. And now the city council had decided to start a modern public library to be situated in new premises in Kyrkogatan 11 and led by a newly appointed city librarian. The salary offered, 3,200 kronor plus overtime, was calculated to be too low to attract a male applicant with the desired academic qualifications and librarian training. Academically educated women did not have much to choose from on the other hand, and Lisa Rolf applied for the post. She had by far the best qualifications and was elected unanimously by the library committee.
Lisa Rolf went in for her assignment with great energy, which in practice meant building up a new city library. Apart from cataloguing and thinning out the worn-out and outmoded stock, buying in new books and developing services, she also laid the foundations of what today constitutes the Lund Collection, with special literature on Lund and its history. In 1929, she participated as the delegate for the Swedish General Library Association (Sveriges Allmänna Biblioteksförening (SAB)) in the first great international library meeting in Rome. It was arranged by the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA), but was somewhat of a disappointment. During the meeting, more time was devoted to sightseeing in the ancient city and to Mussolini’s fascist visions for it than to actual library programmes.
Lisa Rolf’s work as the city librarian came to an end prematurely. As early as spring 1931, she had been diagnosed with stomach cancer, and was treated first at the hospital in Lund and then at the Sophiahemmet in Stockholm. Despite being forced to report sick, she continued to lead the library’s work of development by letter, corresponding diligently with her substitute and later successor, Elsa Gröné. In January 1932 she died in her parents’ home in Stockholm. She was cremated and her ashes rest together with her parents’ and those of the family’s faithful old servant in the columbarium in the chapel of the Northern Cemetery in Solna.
Lisa Rolf never married. She was enormously appreciated by her colleagues who praised her brief but active professional career in obituaries in Biblioteksbladet and Tidevarvet. Right up to the very last, she kept in touch with her student comrades, among them Emilia Fogelklou, who after her death wrote the poem of praise ”To Lisa”.