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Remembering Ridley

Ridley R. Kessler, Jr., retired documents librarian at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, died in Durham, N.C., on Jan. 11, 2007, of congestive heart failure. He was 65.

I meant to post on Ridley earlier than this, but for some reason I’ve been very slow reacting to the death of colleagues and relatives of friends this past year.

But Ridley Kessler deserves to be written about in many venues. One eloquent tribute I’ve seen is at Chapel Hill and can be found at http://www.lib.unc.edu/spotlight/kessler.html.

I did not know Ridley well, although I met him at several documents conferences. I considered him to be one of the deans of our field, even when I felt I needed to disagree with him.

I believe that our main differences were on tactics. Ridley believed in electronic information. He wanted to break down the walls of the depository library. As I perceived him, he wanted librarians to “stop whining” about the loss of print and embrace the opportunities of the future. His full embrace of an electronic future seems to be untypical of his generation.

While I see the ideal (and to a certain extent the actual) future as one of mixed media, I agreed with Ridley that electronic information has tremendous potential and that librarians need to do more to realize that potential. Like Ridley, I didn’t think that government documents could afford to hide behind physical depository walls.

And while I wouldn’t use the expression “whining librarians”, I think Ridley had a point that too many depository librarians are focused on what they can’t do as opposed to what they can do or could do if they joined with other libraries. Some of us are fearful of the future and bless Ridley for making us face that in that gruff way of his that I observed at conferences.

While I and a few others challenged Ridley on whether the electronic portion of our future should be centralized with the government or decentralized with libraries, I think the government information have lost a champion this month.

If you have memories of Ridley Kessler, won’t you either leave a comment here or send an e-mail to dnlcornwall AT alaska.net for me to post for you?

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  1. Tom Oertel says:

    I did not know Ridley well. But I remember how he cared enough to accompany me on the few inspections I performed in NC. Believe me, few Regional depository librarians did that in my brief tenure with the FDLP.

  2. James Shaw says:

    I took Ridley Kessler’s documents class at UNC Chapel Hill in 1984 and completed an internship in UNC’s Davis Library under his direction in 1985. I am a Government Documents Librarian today largely because of the enthusiasm he brought to his vocation and inspired in his students. He was very practical-minded, always thinking in terms of how best to connect researchers with government resources. The mode of delivery was important to the degree that it improved or hindered access, but the key was, and is, connecting researchers to content. While some may disagree about components of completing that task, Ridley Kessler left us with a solid foundation, and he alway started from the right premise.

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