Maurice Line (1928-2010)

Rather belatedly, we should note the death in September 2010 of Maurice Line. One of the leaders of his generation of British librarians, Line was always a proponent of the value of research in library and information. I am not sure whether he would have liked the terms ‘evidence-based practice’ or ‘reflective practitioner’, but he was certainly a proponent of these philosophies before they were given names.

His first senior post was a librarian of the University of Bath from 1968 to 1971. In this brief period he initiated many research projects: in library automation, which greatly influenced later developments at the British Library; and in cataloguing and bibliographic control, from which developed the UK Office for Library Networking (UKOLN), which is still one of the world’s leading centres for research in the area. He moved on to become director-general of the British Library’s Lending Division and later director-general of its Science, Technology and Industry Directorate. Following in the footsteps of his mentor Donald Urquhart, another doyen of the scientific approach to library management, he emphasised the important of research and evaluation in the planning of services, and was not afraid to brusquely over-ride some of the inherited traditions of librarianship. After leaving the British Library, he was for many years an international consultant, particularly to national libraries, emphasising the same approach of challenging both existing practices and beliefs, and also personal preconceptions.

Academically, he was a visiting professor at the Universities of Sheffield and Loughborough (I can remember his enthusiastic lecturing style from my Masters studies at Sheffield), and was the author of fourteen books and many journal articles. He was editor of Alexandria (a journal of national libraries) and of Interlending and Document Supply. The latter produced a special Festschrift issue in his honour in 2005 (volume 33 issue 2)

Among his most endearing qualities was the ability to deal with serious issues through a rather quirky sense of humour. This is nicely shown in the titles of three of his more influential papers:
• On the construction and care of white elephants: some fundamental questions concerning the catalogue, Library Association Record, 1968, 70(1), 2-5
• How golden is your retriever: thoughts on library classification, Library Association Record, 71(5), 115-116, 1969
• Ignoring the user: how, when and why, in The nationwide provision and use of information, Aslib-IIS-LA Joint Conference, Sheffield September 1980, London: Library Association, pp 80-88

These point up his recurring concerns for constantly reassessing services, including the traditional library functions such as ‘car and class’, so as to provide what the users need; not necessarily what they want.

A full bibliography of his writings, excepting only some very recent items, can found in the 2005 special issue of Interlending and Document Supply, while a selection of his early, and arguably most innovative and well as historically interesting, papers can be found in Lines of thought: the selected papers of Maurice B. Line, a book edited by himself and L.J. Anthony (Bingley, London, 1988).

Two of his own recent papers, from the 2005 Festschrift volume, sum up his views concisely and entertainingly, and remain very much relevant. With what must be one of the more challenging titles ever put before a library audience, “Librarianship as it is practiced: a failure of intellect, imagination and initiative” (pages 109-113) is a slightly modified version of a talk given in 1983, and remarkable prescient in its identification of many issues which are still ‘live’ today. ” A lifetime’s change in LIS” (pages 114-116) gives his views on the man changes in librarianship and information science over fifty years. Never one for supporting artificial barriers between the information disciplines, he here emphasises the need for more radical and innovative ideas from within and without the disciplines. I think that those involved in research or practice in the information disciplines will benefit from reflecting on Maurice Line’s incisive criticisms for many years to come. And I wish I could think of titles for my articles that were half as good as his.

2 thoughts on “Maurice Line (1928-2010)

  1. A lovely tribute.

    I am the editor of a library journal, World Libraries. We will be including an article on Dr. Line. I was wondering if you would give me permission to use the picture that you have included in your article.

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