What makes a great University Librarian?

As his Night shelf series begins to draw to a close, Stephen Town reflects on the teachings of other University Librarians in our collections.


As I prepare to relinquish the Statute-defined role of Librarian of this University, I offer two books relating to others who have held this position in other institutions.

Booth, J.,Philip Larkin: Life, Art and Love, in the University Library at MA 191.9 LAR/B

Booth, J., Philip Larkin: Life, Art, Love.
Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014.
Philip Larkin may be best known as one of Britain’s greatest modern poets, but he was a professional librarian for the majority of his life, becoming University Librarian at Hull in 1955 at the early age of 32. At that time the Library had a mere 11 staff; by his death in 1985 this had grown to 80, with a new library building and transformed collections and services. Having had similar scale work experiences of growth and transformation, I would suggest that this part of his life deserves more respect than from the reviewer who described his life outside poetry as “dull”.

We hold a comprehensive collection of Larkin poetry and biography, but this new book seeks to reconcile Larkin’s life and art, and perhaps provide a more balanced perspective than the reputation derived from his own letters and two previous biographies. Booth was a colleague of Larkin’s at Hull, and this is an enthusiast’s readable combination of personal history and literary biography, and may be best read alongside a volume of Larkin’s poems.


Thompson, J., Redirection in academic library management, in the University Library at 023.5 THO

James Thompson was, like Larkin, appointed to the post of University Librarian at a young age, taking the post at Reading in 1967 when he was 35. I started my professional career just down the road from James in 1978, and his writing has been a foundational influence on my own exploration of library management and performance measurement. He wrote the core text of his era on University Library Administration, which went through four editions. And, after moving to Birmingham, he analysed the history of library performance and advocacy there, to inform the idea of what an academic library should be and do. His evaluation and thoughts are presented here in this 1991 work. The idea of a trajectory of academic library development through collections, via service focus, to educational impact (developed from Lancour’s earlier paper) remains very relevant today, and still underpins the search for proof of library contribution to teaching and research. Unsurprisingly, in this modern age many academic libraries have discarded their copies of what should still be a required text for any new information professional. York failed to buy it at the time of publication, so I now donate a priceless copy, obtained for the absurd sum of 1p.

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