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CODE4LIB  January 2020

CODE4LIB January 2020

Subject:

ode to fred kilgour

From:

Eric Lease Morgan <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Code for Libraries <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 6 Jan 2020 14:09:20 -0500

Content-Type:

multipart/alternative

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (21 lines) , Fredrick and Eric.png (21 lines)


Fred Kilgour was a very influential man in the world of modern librarianship. As you may or may not know, he founded OCLC, and I had a few blushes with him.

My first blush with Mr. Kilgour occurred in 1985 or so when I was the lending side of Interlibrary Loan at Drexel University where I was going to library school. Everyday I would tickle the OCLC M300 terminal, and it would spit out lending requests which I was expected to fill. Through the process I had to learn the various ways to search OCLC, specifically with codes such as 4,4 or 4,2,2,1 etc. These codes were title or author searches. Four characters of the first word of the title, two characters of the second word, two more characters of the third word, and a single character of the forth word. At the time the whole thing was smart, but later it became passé, but in retrospect (and given a knowledge of data structures of the time), it was really smart. I used a similar scheme to create my first catalog.

A bit more than a decade later I was recruited to teach Internet 101 to sets of library school graduate students at UNC Chapel-Hill. During my second stint at the job I shared an office with Mr. Kilgour. He had been hired as an emeritus professor of the library school. His job was merely to be there. I couldn't wait! I was going to discuss with him the ideas of 4,4 and 4,2,2,1. I was going to discuss the role of OCLC in librarianship, and more specifically discuss what it meant to be a not-for-profit organization.

Well, my perspective changed. Mr. Kilgour (who was 83 years old at the time) was writing a book on the history of the book, and at the same time he was writing an article using bibliometrics as the foundation of his investigations. We talked about MARC. "It is really stupid", he said. I said, "Yes, but..." "No", he replied, "It is really stupid." He told me stories about the beginnings of OCLC. One time a terminal was "broken". He entered the room and noticed that it was unplugged from the power source. He said, "It needs to be plugged in", and the librarian said, "Well, then plug it in. I don't do such things." He plugged it in and everything worked just fine. As I got to know him, I couldn't give him any grief.

A few years after that, for the first time, I visited the OCLC Home Planet in Dublin (Ohio). I wanted to touch the computer which housed the bibliographic record of my one-and-only formally published book. Ralph LeVan (a programmer at OCLC who recently retired) and I went to the space where the computers were located. It was a huge space, but mostly empty. Since Mr. Kilgour's time, computers had gotten a lot smaller and generated less heat than their predecessors. In the past, the big bad computers were used to heat the OCLC building, but times had changed (or rather evolved).

Over the recent holiday, as I was doing my annual data archiving thing, I uncovered a photograph of Mr. Kilgour and myself, circa 1997. When I came to work today I took my autographed copy of his complete works off the shelf next to my desk, and I leafed through it pages. "Where are the articles describing his idea of 'personal catalogs'?" Mr. Kilgour had a direct influence on my life as a librarian. I know he has had an effect on your professional life as well.

Mr. Kilgour died in 2006 at the age of 92.

--
Eric Lease Morgan, Librarian
University of Notre Dame


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