I learned yesterday, at the meeting of the Board of Library Commissioners, that Allen Smith, Simmons professor and farrier, had died on August 2nd. He was the person that taught me almost everything I know about being a reference librarian. Way back in January 1983 I was in his reference class at GSLIS at Simmons College. Imagine a time before the Internet, if you can, when Reference Librarians relied ENTIRELY on paper sources. I know, it is hard to imagine, but Allen Smith was the person who got me to look at hundreds of reference books, who reminded me to always write down where I looked so I didn’t duplicate my efforts, and who said it all came down to finding information for people. This is still true. He taught me the significance of the Eleventh Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica and I fell further in love with the twenty volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary in his class. For many, many years I hung on to the gigantic bibliography of reference sources from his class. He’s also the person who got me to take a class in government documents, because he thought it should be a requirement for every reference librarian.
Over the years I’ve kept in touch with Allen, as he often was on his way to Naushon Island in his work as a farrier, so would stop by the Falmouth reference desk to say hello. He sent many of his library students my way who lived on the Cape and were taking his class. I hired two of his students! Both Laura Ford and Donna Burgess are disciples of Allen Smith’s reference class. Yesterday I told Em Claire Knowles I didn’t know who I would hire now that Allen was gone. She said not to worry, he just taught his last class last Spring so there would be plenty of Allen Smith trained reference librarians available to hire for years to come. For that I am grateful.
You can read more about him as a farrier, or as a professor, as memories of him spring up on the Internet. I’ve got a photo of him in my office with his quote: “It’s essential for my students to understand why they are looking where for what, if they are to become exceptional librarians and masters of information.” Oh … and he had a great, great laugh.