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Frederick G. Kilgour, founder of OCLC, dies at 92

Press Release: OCLC [August 1, 2006]

Copyright (c) 2006 OCLC

Abstract: 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. He was 92 years old and had lived since 1990 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He founded OCLC Online Computer Library Center and led the creation of a library network that today links 55,000 institutions in 110 countries.


DUBLIN, Ohio, USA, 1 August 2006—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. He was 92 years old and had lived since 1990 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Kilgour 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. At the dawn of library automation in the early 1970's, he founded OCLC Online Computer Library Center and led the creation of a library network that today links 55,000 institutions in 110 countries.

"Fred 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."

In 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. It 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. It contains descriptions of library materials and their locations. More recently, the database provides access to the electronic full text of articles and books as well as images and sound recordings. It spans 4,000 years of recorded knowledge. Every 10 seconds a library adds a new record.

Kilgour 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. Under Kilgour's leadership, the nonprofit corporation introduced a shared cataloging system in 1971 for 54 Ohio academic libraries.

At 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. The shared cataloging system and database that Kilgour devised made it unnecessary for more than one library to originally catalog an item. A library could use the cataloging information already in the database, and add items not already entered. Of equal importance, the shared catalog enabled inter-library lending, sparing libraries the expense of adding material to their own collections. The network quickly grew beyond Ohio to all 50 states and then internationally.

Thanks 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.

Frederick Gridley Kilgour was born in Springfield, Mass. on Jan. 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. At 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. He 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, D.C.

In 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. This organization of 150 persons in outposts around the world microfilmed newspapers and other printed information items and sent them back to Washington, DC.

One 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.

From 1946 to 1948, Kilgour served as deputy director in the Office of Intelligence Collection and Dissemination in the Department of State.

In 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. He asked his staff to collect empirical data, such as use of books and journals by categories of to guide selection and retention of titles. He viewed the library "not as a mere depository of knowledge," but as "an instrument of education."

In 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 benefits.

In 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.

In 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.

Kilgour 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. Today, 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.

In 1981 he stepped down from management but continued to serve on the OCLC Board of Trustees until 1995.

In 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.

Kilgour 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 CumIndex.

He received numerous awards from library associations and five honorary doctorates.

In 1982, the American Library Association presented him with Honorary Life Membership. The citation read:

"In 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."

In 1979, the American Society for Information Science and Technology gave him the Award of Merit. The citation read:

"Presented 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."

OCLC 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.

In 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.

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Publication Year:2006
Type of Material:Press Release
Language English
Issue:August 1, 2006
Publisher:OCLC
Place of Publication:Dublin, OH
Company: OCLC
Record Number:12129
Last Update:2012-12-29 14:06:47
Date Created:0000-00-00 00:00:00