Frederick G. Kilgour, creator of an international computer library (founder of OCLC: Online Computer Library Center), dies at 92
(Note: What a priceless gift this man gave the world: the contents of libraries everywhere, available 24/7 via computer!)
August 1, 2006
OCLC Online Computer Library Center, Inc.
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Ohio - Frederick G. Kilgour, a librarian and educator who created an
international computer library network and database that changed the
way people use libraries, died on July 31, 2006.
was 92 years old and had lived since 1990 in Chapel Hill, North
is widely recognized as one of the leading figures in 20th-century
librarianship for using computer networks to increase access to
information in libraries around the world. He was among the earliest
proponents of adapting computer technology to library processes.
the dawn of library automation in the early 1970s, he founded OCLC
Online Computer Library Center and led the creation of a
library network that today links 55,000 institutions in 110 countries.
Kilgour lived a rich life that was full of accomplishment," said
Jay Jordan, OCLC President and CEO. "He leaves us with a
great legacy and an exciting future. His innovations have vastly
increased the availability of library resources for millions of people
around the world. His vision continues to influence the evolution
of research, scholarship and education in the digital age."
1971, he developed a database, WorldCat, that now contains more than
70 million entries for books and other materials and more than one
billion location listings for these materials in libraries around the
world, and it is available on the World Wide Web.
is regarded as the world's largest computerized library catalog,
including not only entries from large institutions such as the Library
of Congress, the British Library, the Russian State Library and
Singapore National Library, but also from small public libraries, art
museums and historical societies.
contains descriptions of library materials and their locations.
recently, the database provides access to the electronic full text of
articles and books, as well as images and sound recordings.
spans 4,000 years of recorded knowledge.
10 seconds a library adds a new record.
had been an academic librarian and historian of science and technology
at Harvard and Yale for 30 years when the Ohio College Association
hired him in 1967 to establish the world's first computerized library
network, the Ohio College Library Center, on the campus of The Ohio
State University in Columbus.
Kilgour's leadership, the nonprofit corporation introduced a shared
cataloging system in 1971 for 54 Ohio academic libraries.
that time, most libraries maintained card catalogs as guides to their
collections, and librarians had to type individual cards for each
item, a labor-intensive and expensive procedure.
shared cataloging system and database that Kilgour devised made it
unnecessary for more than one library to originally catalog an item.
library could use the cataloging information already in the
database, and add items not already entered.
equal importance, the shared catalog enabled inter-library lending,
sparing libraries the expense of adding material to their own
network quickly grew beyond Ohio to all 50 states, and then
to Kilgour, WorldCat connects libraries of all types and sizes, from
giant research libraries to small public libraries around the world.
It enables people to have access to library collections irrespective
of where they are located. People can also access the database and
library collections through the World Wide Web.
Gridley Kilgour was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, on January 6,
1914, to Edward Francis and Lillian Piper Kilgour. Upon graduating
from Harvard College in 1935, he became assistant to the director of
the Harvard University Library, where he began experimenting in
automating library procedures, primarily the use of punched cards for
a circulation system.
the same time he undertook graduate study under George Sarton, a
pioneer in the new discipline of the history of science, and began
publishing scholarly papers.
also built a collection of microfilmed foreign newspapers to give
scholars access to newspapers from abroad, an activity that
quickly came to the attention of government officials in Washington,
1942 to 1945, Kilgour, with a commission as a lieutenant in the U. S.
Naval Reserve, was Executive Secretary and Acting Chairman of the U.S.
government's Interdepartmental Committee for the Acquisition of
Foreign Publications (IDC), which developed a system for obtaining
publications from enemy and enemy-occupied areas.
organization of 150 persons in outposts around the world microfilmed
newspapers and other printed information items and sent them back to
example of the kind of intelligence gathered was the Japanese
"News for Sailors" reports listing new mine fields that were
sent from Washington, D.C. directly to Pearl Harbor and U.S.
submarines in the Western Pacific. Kilgour received the Legion of
Merit for his intelligence work in 1945.
1946 to 1948, Kilgour served as deputy director in the Office of
Intelligence Collection and Dissemination in the Department of State.
1948, he was named Librarian of the Yale Medical Library. At Yale he
was also a lecturer in the history of science and technology, and
published many scholarly articles on those topics.
While running the Yale Medical Library, Kilgour began publishing studies and articles on library use and effectiveness.
asked his staff to collect empirical data, such as use of books and
journals by categories of to guide selection and retention of titles.
viewed the library "not as a mere depository of knowledge,"
but as "an instrument of education."
1961, he was one of the leaders in the development of a prototype
computerized library catalog system for the medical libraries at
Columbia, Harvard and Yale Universities that was funded by the
National Science Foundation. In 1965, Kilgour was also named associate
librarian for research and development at Yale University, continuing
experiments in library automation and promoting their potential
his professional writings, Kilgour pointed out that the explosion of
research information was placing new demands on libraries to furnish
information completely and rapidly. He advocated the use of the
computer to eliminate human repetitive tasks from library procedures.
He recognized nearly 40 years ago the potential of linking libraries
in computer networks to create economies of scale and generate
"network effects" that would increase the value of the
network as more participants were added.
1967, the Ohio College Association (a group comprising the presidents
of Ohio's colleges and universities) hired Kilgour to lead a nonprofit
corporation, the Ohio College Library Center (OCLC), in the
development of a computerized library system for the academic
libraries in the state. In 1971, after four years of development, OCLC
introduced its online shared cataloging system, which would achieve
dramatic cost savings for libraries. For example, in the first
year of system use, the Alden Library at Ohio University was able to
increase the number of books it cataloged by a third, while reducing
its staff by 17 positions. Word of this new idea spread on campuses
across the country, starting an online revolution in libraries that
continues to this day.
was president of OCLC from 1967 to 1980, presiding over its rapid
growth from an intrastate network to an international network. In
addition to creating the WorldCat database, he developed an online
interlibrary loan system that last year libraries used to arrange
nearly 10 million loans.
OCLC has a staff of 1,200 and offices in seven countries.
Its mission remains the same: to further access to the world's
information and reduce library costs.
1981 he stepped down from management, but continued to serve on the
OCLC Board of Trustees until 1995.
1990, he was named Distinguished Research Professor, School of
Information and Library Science, the University of North Carolina at
Chapel Hill, and served on the faculty until his retirement in 2004.
was the author of 205 scholarly papers. He was the founder and first
editor of the journal, Information Technology and Libraries.
In 1999, Oxford University Press published his Evolution of
the Book. His other works include: Engineering in History;
The Library of the Medical Institution of Yale College and its
Catalogue of 1865; and the Library and Information Science
received numerous awards from library associations and five honorary
1982, the American Library Association presented him with Honorary
Life Membership. The citation read:
recognition of his successful pioneering efforts to master technology
in the service of librarianship; the acuity of his vision that helped
to introduce the most modern and powerful technologies into the
practice of librarianship; the establishment and development of a
practical vehicle for making the benefits of technology readily
available to thousands of libraries; his long and distinguished career
as a practicing librarian; his voluminous, scholarly and prophetic
writings; and above all his fostering the means for ensuring the
economic viability of libraries, the American Library Association
hereby cites Frederick Gridley Kilgour as scholar, entrepreneur,
innovator, and interpreter of technology steadfastly committed to the
preservation of humanistic values."
1979, the American Society for Information Science and Technology gave
him the Award of Merit. The citation read:
to Frederick G. Kilgour, in recognition of his leadership in the field
of library automation: As Executive Director of OCLC since 1967, he
has succeeded in changing the conception of what is feasible in
library automation and library networking. His major technological
developments, superb planning and executive abilities, deep insight
into bibliographic and information needs, and unfaltering leadership
have transformed a state association of libraries in a national
interlibrary bibliographic utility."
has proved the feasibility of nationwide sharing of catalog-record
creation and has helped libraries to maintain and to enhance the
quality and speed of service while achieving cost control -- and even
cost reduction -- in the face of severely reduced funding. This
achievement may be the single greatest contribution to national
networking in the United States. His work will have a lasting impact
on the field of information science.
1940, he married Eleanor Margaret Beach, a graduate of Mount Holyoke
College, who had taken a job at the Harvard College Library, where
they met. He is survived by his wife and their daughters, Marta
Kilgour and Alison Kilgour of New York City, and Meredith Kilgour
Perdiew of North Edison, New Jersey; grandson, Bradley Perdiew, and
granddaughter, Amy Surma, and five great-grandchildren.
Find out more about OCLC (Online Computer Library Center): http://www.oclc.org/about/styleguide/boilerplate.htm
For more information:
Bob Murphy firstname.lastname@example.org or +1-614-761-5136
At the request of the Kilgour family, there will be no funeral service.
OCLC plans to celebrate Fred's life and his contributions to the public good in a number of venues in the coming months and will announce details when they become available.
See also: Post your thoughts and memories http://forums.oclc.org/idealbb/view.asp?topicID=11720