Monday, 20 August 2007

Obituary

Wilfred Leonard Saunders CBE, Professor Emeritus of the University of Sheffield and the first Director of this Department, died on 27th July 2007 after a short illness, aged 87.

Wilf was born and brought up in Birmingham and began his career as a library assistant in the Birmingham Reference Library in 1936. Following service in France, North Africa and Italy during the Second World War, he became the Deputy Librarian at the Institute of Bankers in London and then the founding Librarian of the Institute of Education at the University of Birmingham. He spent seven years there, during which time he developed a strong interest in library cooperation activities, before moving to the University of Sheffield in 1956 as Deputy Librarian, the start of a 26-year association with the University that continued until his retirement in 1982.

In 1963 he assumed the Directorship of the new Postgraduate School of Librarianship that was then being created in Sheffield; it subsequently changed its name first to the Postgraduate School of Librarianship and Information Science, and then to the Department of Information Studies. Wilf’s plans for the School had several novel characteristics that have strongly influenced our development over the years. First, the need to attract high-quality graduates into library and information work, these to include not just the traditional arts and humanities graduates but also students with backgrounds in the sciences (and subsequently the social sciences). Second, the need to reflect in the courses the increasing potential of the computer in library and information work, something that seems obvious now but that was visionary in the UK context in the early Sixties. Third, the need to provide an environment that would support not only high-class teaching but also cutting-edge academic research, both to establish the new School within the University and to rectify the national lack of trained research staff and students that prevailed at that time. The focus on research has continued to the present day, and meant that the School was exceptionally well positioned when the first national research selectivity exercise took place in 1986, and we have achieved the highest possible grade in all such exercises to date.

The establishment of the Sheffield School would have been sufficient for most people, but Wilf carried out a wealth of other activities during his Directorship and in retirement. He was a member of Aslib Council (1965-71 and 1973-79), and of the British Council (1970-87), President of the Library Association (1980), a member of the British Library's Advisory Committee on the Research and Development Department (1980-85), the first Chairman of the Library and Information Services Council (1981-84), and a member of the Lord Chancellor's Advisory Council on Public Records (1986-91). In 1989 he authored a seminal report for Aslib and the Library Association Towards a unified professional organization for library and information science and services: a personal view (known as The Saunders Report) which recommended the merger of these two bodies and the Institute of Information Scientists. Although discussions between the parties were broken off after two years, the idea of a merger of the LA and IIS was revived in 1996 and eventually Wilf’s far-seeing views were brought to fruition with the establishment of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) in 2002.

In addition to his national activities, Wilf performed many consultancies and speaking engagements around the world. Much of this work was carried out on behalf of the British Council and UNESCO, focusing on academic libraries, manpower planning, and education programmes for the library and information professions. His contributions to the library and information profession, both nationally and internationally, were widely recognised, perhaps most notably by the award of a CBE in 1982, while his contributions to the University of Sheffield were reflected in its award to him of an honorary DLitt degree in 1989.

We owe a huge amount to Wilf. He was courteous, far-seeing and supportive of colleagues, and he created an organisation that is now recognised as one of the world’s leading departments in library and information studies.

Our sympathies go to Joan, his wife of 61 years, and his sons John and Peter.

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