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Robert Harold BLACKBURN


1919 - 2019
Robert Harold BLACKBURN Obituary
ROBERT HAROLD BLACKBURN Robert Harold Blackburn died in his 101st year in his own bed on Wednesday, September 18, 2019, in the home near Streetsville, Ontario to which he moved his family in 1950. The day before, he had played and won at Scrabble with friends. He was loved and will be greatly missed by his wife of the last 26 years, Verna; by his children, Robert, Karen and Harry (Trudy); by his step- children, Susan, Scott (Adele), Stuart (Kimberley) and Anne (Jonathon); by his sister, Betty Mullen; and by his 8 grandchildren and 13 great- grandchildren. He was happily married for 47 years to his children's mother, Patricia, who died in 1989. His exceptionally long, happy and productive life began on a farm near Lavoy, Alberta where he was born to his parents, John and Palma, on February 3, 1919. For grades one to ten, he road horseback to the one room Victory school 5 miles south of Lavoy. He finished high school in Vegreville and Edmonton. He went on to finish a BA and MA at the University of Alberta, Bachelor of Library Science at the University of Toronto and, after wartime service in the Canadian Air Force, a Masters of Library Science at Columbia University in New York. He began his library career in a store-front branch of Calgary Public Library in 1945 before moving in 1947 to the U. of T. Library, first as Assistant Librarian then as Chief Librarian where he served a distinguished career from 1954-81. Under his leadership, the Library built many world class collections and became a world leader in development of information technology tools and services subsequently adopted by libraries around the world. What he would see as his crowning achievement was the John P. Robarts Research Library and the adjacent Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library which were conceived and built during his tenure, opening in 1973. With over 1 million square feet, the Roberts Library complex is one of the world's leading research libraries. He was involved in the design of a number of other Canadian academic libraries and of some small community libraries including the Streetsville Public Library, the Board of which he chaired for several years, writing the building programme for construction of its Centennial building. His career also included many firsts: first Canadian member and Board member of the North American Association of Research Libraries, hosting its first annual meeting outside the U.S.; first Canadian member of the Midwest Interlibrary Centre in Chicago chairing its Board when its constitution was revised to broaden membership and to rename it as the Centre for Research Libraries; President of the Canadian Library Association; founding President of the Canadian Association of College and University Libraries; and founding Chair of the Canadian Association of Research Libraries. At his invitation UNESCO's International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) held its first conference outside Europe at the U. of T. in 1967. A fuller account of this history is to be found in his autobiographical From Barley Field to Academe published by the U. of T. Library in 2014, one of 9 books of career and family histories which he wrote after his retirement. Honorary doctorates from the Universities of Waterloo, McGill and Toronto recognized and celebrated his many contributions and achievements over his exceptionally creative and distinguished career. A Celebration of Robert Blackburn's Life will be held at Streetsville United Church, 274 Queen St. South, Mississauga, L5M 1L8 on Friday, October 4, at 2:00 p.m. Those wishing to make a charitable contribution in his memory might send a contribution to a cause near to his heart, Friends of Fisher Library, U. of T. Libraries Advancement, 130 St. George St., Room 2005, Toronto M5S 1A5.
Published in The Globe and Mail from Oct. 2 to Oct. 6, 2019
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