Saturday, March 14, 2009

Evan Ira Farber 1922-2009

There was one bit of news that hit me just as I was arriving in London on Ash Wednesday that I pondered the entire time I was in England, but didn't comment on until now: the passing of Evan Ira Farber. His obituary, as given by his good friends at Earlham College is here. Evan was the library director emeritus of Earlham and, as the obituary states, "a dominant figure in the academic library world." He "developed a new concept of college libraries and college librarianship in the 1960s, '70s and '80s and encouraged hundreds of college students to enter the library profession."

By the time I met Evan I'd already decided to enter the profession. But he still had a huge impact on the direction of my career. In graduate school I was very interested in bibliographic instruction, the way to intertwine the library and its collections with teaching and curricula. Today we call it "information literacy"; back in the '80s it was "BI." And Evan was the center of the BI universe. For my final paper for the MA I decided to write about Evan and the Earlham program he had established. In the course of my research I corresponded with Evan and talked with him over the phone. He was very generous in supplying information, much of it finding its way into my paper (which you can find listed in WordCat): "A study of the influence of the Earlham College library user instruction program on bibliographic instruction within the library profession." [2], 135 leaves ; 28 cm. (M.A.)--University of Minnesota, 1982. Happily, a copy found its way into the Earlham library collection.

But my connection with Evan did not end there. My first professional position was at Barat College in Lake Forest, Illinois (sadly, no longer in existence.) Barat had been an active participant in the Earlham workshops and I wanted to take advantage of that relationship and experience the workshop first-hand. So a year or so into my tenure I gathered a few faculty members and together we travelled to Earlham.

Here's a bit more from the Earlham obituary: "It was as College Librarian at Earlham College from 1962 to 1994, that Evan made his mark. He became one of the country's most articulate spokespersons for college librarianship and bibliographic instruction. Hundreds of academic leaders and librarians studied the model college library program he created at Earlham. They attended Earlham and then Earlham-Eckerd conferences on bibliographic instruction and the college library, and then returned home to apply their knowledge at their own institutions."

"Evan's leadership in college librarianship ran counter to the conventional wisdom of the time and he spoke, consulted and wrote prolifically to counter those accepted ideas. Perhaps his most famous thesis, that "the library is not the heart of the college, the teaching-learning process is," not only rankled his peers, but also caused them to rethink their professional roles and the services offered by their libraries. In debunking such conventional wisdom, Evan illuminated the real importance of the college library and articulated ideas that today have become central tenants of modern librarianship: the meaningful value of a college library is the degree to which it helps students learn and faculty teach. College librarians' most important responsibility is to work closely with the teaching faculty to educate students about how to use information resources as a key part of their education. This is the legacy he leaves and the challenge he places before present and future librarians."

"His influence extended beyond Earlham College and its model program." Indeed, it did. When I came to Earlham to participate in the workshop I had the chance, finally, to meet Evan face to face. We met in his office and there, on the table, was a copy of my paper. I don't remember everything that we talked about, but I did sense his appeciation of my work. At the same time, there was a sense of modesty about the man. He, indeed, did bring people together through the workshops. But I think he saw the greater worth in what was being taken away and adapted to local situations at campuses around the country. I also remember an added bonus of our meeting, the chance to meet Tom Kirk, another influential member in the BI field who worked closely with Evan.

I remember, at the time, a deep sense of appreciation and thanks for everything Evan was doing and for how he had shaped my own sense of librarianship. I shared this with him at the time. And I do so now. He was one of the giants in the profession. Thank you, Evan, for your generosity and energy and passion and sharing. I will always treasure that time when our paths crossed.

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