Evan Ira Farber, library director emeritus of Earlham College, died peacefully on the morning of February 12, 2009. A dominant figure in the academic library world, Evan 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.
Born in the Bronx in 1922, he grew up in New York City and suburban Great Neck. After receiving his B.A. in 1944 from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and then attending Princeton for two years, he taught at Massachusetts State College (now the University of Massachusetts, Amherst). He subsequently returned to Chapel Hill, earning first a master’s degree in political science in 1951 and then in 1953 a bachelor’s degree in library science, the equivalent of today’s Master of Library Science degree. Evan’s first professional position was at Livingston State Teachers College in Alabama (1953-55), followed by a seven-year tour as serials librarian at Emory University, where he worked for his mentor, Guy R. Lyle, himself a nationally recognized librarian.
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. Evan wrote and spoke often about the pro-active approach that addressed the needs of students through collaboration with classroom faculty. Evan’s contributions are well documented in the collection of his writings titled College Libraries and the Teaching/Learning Process (Richmond, Ind.: Earlham College Press, 2008). The book’s introduction is the source for many of the biographical details of this obituary.
Evan also advanced the academic library profession through his involvement in the American Library Association (ALA) and the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) which he served as president in 1977. He was a member of the ALA Council, and a member and chair of numerous ALA and ACRL committees, including co-chair of the conference planning committee for the 1989 ACRL National Conference in Cincinnati.
To honor his many contributions the ACRL named Evan Academic/Research Librarian of the Year in 1980. He also received the Miriam Dudley Instruction Librarian Award in 1987, three honorary doctorates (St. Lawrence University, Susquehanna University, and Indiana University) and a Distinguished Alumnus Award from the University of North Carolina School of Library and Information Science.
Evan often engaged people outside the profession in discussions about college librarianship. Among such encounters was his acquaintance with Pyke Johnson, the parent of an Earlham student which led to Pyke’s article in Publishers Weekly, “A Day with a College Librarian” (January 9, 1978).
Perhaps his most profound impact on the academic library profession was his mentoring of librarians and encouragement of students to enter the field itself, as evidenced by the many Earlham students who now serve throughout the country’s libraries and the broader information field.
Evan devoted himself to the larger Richmond community as well as to Earlham College. In his younger days he played handball at the YMCA and tennis wherever he could find a game. He loved bridge and poker. In later years, he read his beloved New York Times and talked about books with friends at Readmore. He was an avid supporter of the Richmond Symphony and Richmond Civic Theater. An attender at Clear Creek Friends Meeting over the years, Evan became a member of Temple Beth Boruk in later life. He was an inspiring mentor and trusted advisor to countless students and colleagues. His kindness, wonderful sense of humor, wide ranging interests and pleasant manner touched the lives of many in Richmond and beyond. He will be greatly missed by friends and family alike.
He was preceded in death by his wife of 40 years, Hope Wells Farber (1931-2006), and is survived by his sister, Amy Ayers (Edmonds, Wash.); children and stepchildren, Cindy Farber Soule, Amy Farber (Rochester, N.Y.), Jo Anna Farber (Philadelphia, Pa.), May Beth Farber Hinshaw (Coralville, Iowa), David Nagle (Shawnee, Okla.), Jeffrey Nagle (Brunswick, Maine), Lisa Nagle (Evergreen, Colo.), and their spouses; 11 grandchildren; a great-granddaughter; and numerous nephews, nieces, cousins and their children.
A memorial service was held at 2 p.m. on Saturday, May 23, 2009, at Stout Meetinghouse on the Earlham College campus.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Lilly Library Renovation Fund, Earlham College, Advancement Office, 801 National Road W., Richmond, Ind. 47374.
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