I was studious in avoiding communications from work over the holidays, the one exception being the two days I was in the office between Christmas and New Year’s Day. So it came as a shock to open my e-mail yesterday and see a note from Wendy sent on the last day of 2012 informing us that Bill DeJohn, the much-loved former director of Minitex, had died that morning. His obituary in the Northfield, Minnesota paper informed me that he “passed away peacefully…after a short battle with pancreatic cancer.” At about the same time I heard about Bill, a call came from a friend asking me if I’d heard anything about the death of Joseph Branin, a former library administrator here at Minnesota. I hadn’t heard anything about Joe, but then came Wendy’s second note this morning informing us that Joe was also gone, again from cancer. I said that opening the initial e-mail about Bill was a shock. That’s not right. It was a kick in the gut, a punch that took the wind out of me and brought me to my knees. The news about Joe was another body blow, a one-two punch that leaves me sad, angry, and numb.
My path may have crossed Joe’s while I was in graduate school. I do not know when, exactly, he served at Minnesota. But I do know he had a profound influence on the profession, especially in his work at Ohio State, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, through consultancies, and as editor of College & Research Libraries. My condolences go to his family and friends. He will be missed.
The greater blow for me comes with Bill’s passing. I feel a great sadness for my colleagues who work in the same building as I do—home of Minitex—and the great work that Bill and his staff did together for so many years. I bumped into Bill almost every day in Andersen Library (when he wasn’t out and about or lobbying in St. Paul for more funding). Occasionally, we presented together for a class or professional group. Every now and then he’d call me down to his office to consult with him on something related to rare books or preservation. But perhaps the greatest memory for me was meeting Bill for the first time as part of an interview for a position in Minitex. Not many people know that two years before I landed my current position at Minnesota I was invited to come to Minneapolis for a job interview. I can’t remember what the position was, except that it involved travel and training, both of which I was happy to do. But I was a little short on cataloging experience and that was what sunk me in the end. My meeting with Bill lasted perhaps half an hour. What struck me at the time—besides Bill’s personality and probing questions—was the fact that his office was piled high with papers and seemed rather cramped and undersized for a man as busy and important as he was. There was a modesty in both the man and his context that didn’t seem to tell the whole story. I learned later, after arriving at my current post, what a dynamo he was and how forceful and persuasive he could be when lobbying the legislature or advocating on behalf of libraries wherever his work brought him.
Much of what we have access to today in terms of interlibrary cooperation, lending, cataloging, training, purchasing, and tools comes from the mind, work, and leadership of Bill while at the helm of Minitex. Every time I access the Electronic Library for Minnesota, request an item through interlibrary loan, or walk through the doors of Andersen Library I will probably think of Bill, remember the times we had together, and give thanks for his life. He would not want me to be sad, angry, or numb. He’d want me to be about my business and make the library a better place. I will take that, and his enduring legacy, as a testament of what it is to be a true professional. My thoughts and prayers continue for his family. He will be missed by the many, many friends he had in the library world and beyond. Peace to his memory.