Library Giant Russell Shank Dies

July 2, 2012

Russell Shank, 86, professor emeritus at the University of California, Los Angeles’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, 1977–1988 university librarian at UCLA, and a renowned leader who made his mark in academic, special, and public librarianship as well as in intellectual freedom and international librarianship, died June 26 of complications from a fall. The 1978–1979 president of the American Library Association, he had been attending ALA’s 2012 Annual Conference in Anaheim for several days before he fell at his home, and was among the library leaders acknowledged at the June 21 Library Champions and Past Presidents Reception.

Shank was the first-ever vice chancellor for library and information services planning at UCLA Libraries, a post he accepted after having served as university librarian. He came to UCLA from Smithsonian Institution Libraries, where he had accomplished another first, having served from 1967 to 1977 as SIL’s first-ever director of libraries. Prior to that, he had been on the faculty of the Columbia University library school after having served as assistant university librarian at the University of California, Berkeley, from 1959 to 1964.

In addition to being a past president of ALA, Shank was 1972–1973 president of ALA’s Association of College and Research Libraries and 1968–1969 president of the Information Science and Automation Division (now the Library and Information Technology Association), and received the Freedom to Read Foundation Roll of Honor Award in 1990. Among his other accomplishments, he was instrumental in forming FEDLINK (the Federal Library and Information Network) and helped convince ALA’s governing Council in 1991 to make Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights part of Association policy.

The 1990 recipient of the Hugh C. Atkinson Memorial Award, Shank began his career in 1953 as chief of in-service training and personnel control for Milwaukee Public Library and then was engineering and physical sciences librarian at Columbia from 1959 to 1964. In the latter post, he was able to draw from his undergraduate degree in electrical engineering; in fact, he reminisced in the July/August 1977 American Libraries, he took his first library science course (Administration of Special Libraries) by accident. Shank was only looking to round out his required credits for a corporate management degree, he recalled, but “once I got into the school, it just appealed to me—the right kind of people, the program.”