Evan Farber 1922-2009

My sister is an Earlham college graduate and she passed along the sad news of Evan Farber’s death. The college has written a lovely obit for him and a memorial page where people can share their own memories of him which many people have. I’ve been enjoying reading them and curious to learn more about some of the stories…. “who of my EC generation can forget that picture of Evan leaning back in a chair up against the newly installed electronic security system with a machine gun across his lap.”

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.

One thought on “Evan Farber 1922-2009

  1. From Mary Hyde Hood, 1980 Earlham grad
    I remember well, as others have mentioned, being turned loose in Lilly Library in my first days at Earlham during the fall of 1976 with a large packet of questions that we were to answer in order to learn how to research and fully utilize our libraries (Lilly Humanities and Wildman Science). I was already adept at using the comforting card catalog and doing basic periodical research, but I’d never used microfilm, microfiche, or lived among the stacks until I came under Evan’s spell. As others have observed, Evan was the consummate gentleman and scholar. I remember him as a natty dresser, with an air of metropolitan sophistication. He exuded a quiet air of authority. Once he sniffed out that I was one of Steve Heiny’s few Classics majors, every time he saw me, Evan would inquire what and how I was doing and talk to me about his daughter (Cindy, I believe) who was also a Classics major. Although I did most of my studying at my desk in my room, I spent countless hours at Lilly, and I think the building’s beauty, tranquility, open-ended possibilities, and feeling of a safe retreat were all extensions of Evan’s personality and influence. Our older son is now a sophomore at Earlham, and I still have the same feeling of contentment and peace when I walk through Lilly and soak in the gorgeous views from its windows.

    I guess some of Evan’s love for and proficiency at research must have rubbed off on me because the one book I have had published so far was the product of five years of intensive research. Like Evan, I view researching a subject I am passionate about as the ultimate treasure hunt.

    Others have mentioned the famous photo of Evan on guard holding the machine gun. Here is a link to that photo, originally published in college newspaper The Earlham Word and prominently featured in my junior year 1979 Sargasso yearbook on page 33: Evan Farber on guard (https://share.acrobat.com/adc/adc.do?docid=69bfa115-3a2f-41d5-9e80-86a182ceaeb1)

    On a poster next to Evan is the following text:

    For him that stealeth, or borroweth and returneth not this book from its owner, let it change into a serpent in his hand & rend him. Let him be struck with palsy & all his members blasted. Let him languish in pain crying aloud for mercy & let there be no surcease to his agony till he sinks to dissolution. Let book worms gnaw his entrails in token of the Worm that dieth not & when at last he goeth to his final punishment, let the flames of hell consume him for ever.

    Thanks to my husband Steve, fellow 1980 EC grad, for creating the link to the photo and copying the text from the poster.

    Interestingly, the way I learned of Evan’s death was not from my son, or daily missives from Earlham (perhaps I missed a mention in ATH), but from my niece Katie who is preparing to enroll in a master of library science program. Katie’s hero, radical librarian blogger Jessamyn West, wrote a piece about Evan called Evan Farber 1922-2009 (https://www.librarian.net/stax/2693/evan-farber-1922-2009/). Like Katie (and her sister Emily Warrener Gough EC ’05), Jessamyn has a sister who is an Earlham grad, from whom she heard the sad news.

    My love and greatest respect to all Evan’s family. Think of what a magnificent job Evan must be doing organizing and improving the libraries in the next life!

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