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F. Kilgour in CHE

Frederick G. Kilgour, Developer of Popular Electronic Library Catalog, Dies


If you have gone into a library and found it easy to look up books in the catalog, or even to find out what a library in another town has on its shelves, you owe a debt of gratitude to Frederick G. Kilgour. Mr. Kilgour, who founded the library-network organization that became OCLC Online Computer Library Center, died on Monday. He was 92.

Mr. Kilgour's work at OCLC included the development of WorldCat, a catalog that now comprises about 70 million items and is used by libraries in countries around the world. When WorldCat was being developed in the early 1970s, most libraries relied on card catalogs. WorldCat allowed libraries to share bibliographic entries, thus eliminating the tedious and costly efforts of each library typing up records for each of its books. WorldCat also allowed libraries to establish links between collections, making interlibrary loans easier.

Before moving to Ohio to run OCLC in 1967, Mr. Kilgour had been the head librarian of the Yale medical library. In 1961, he helped establish a prototype computerized library catalog system for medical libraries at Columbia University, Harvard University, and Yale.

"He is certainly a giant of his time," said Duane E. Webster, executive director of the Association of Research Libraries, adding that Mr. Kilgour had taken OCLC from a local organization to "the bibliographic data center of the world."

"He did this at a time when everyone looked to the Library of Congress to create, manage, provide, and support all of those services that OCLC has eventually taken over," Mr. Webster said. "It's hard to imagine the scope of his vision unless you came through this period when everybody assumed that our challenge was to get Congress to put more money into the Library of Congress to solve these problems and deliver services. He said it's foolish to keep knocking our heads against that wall -- let's create a partnership amongst ourselves."

Mr. Kilgour "moved libraries into networking well before the Internet," Mr. Webster said.

Michael Gorman, the dean of library services at California State University at Fresno and the immediate past president of the American Library Association, said Mr. Kilgour was "the godfather" of library automation.

"You cannot overstate his impact on library automation, on cooperation between libraries, on the prevalence of online catalogs, and so on," Mr. Gorman said. "I reviewed his collected papers once, and I was really struck by the remarkable scope of his knowledge."

Mr. Kilgour was involved with librarianship until very recently, having been a professor of library and information science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill until 2004.