University of Illinois

Professor Emeritus F. W. Lancaster passes away

Filed under: School News
Posted: Aug. 28, 2013

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Photo by McCandless Photography
F. W. “Wilf” Lancaster, GSLIS professor emeritus, passed away on Sunday, August 25, at his home in Urbana, Illinois. He was 79 years old. He is survived by his wife of 52 years, Cesaria; his children, Miriam, Owen, Jude, Aaron, Lakshmi, and Raji; and his 13 grandchildren.

A visitation will be held at 10:00 a.m. on Friday, August 30, at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Urbana with a funeral Mass to follow at 11:00 a.m. Interment will occur immediately thereafter at Clements Cemetery on High Cross Road in Urbana. A funeral lunch will follow at St. Patrick’s. In lieu of flowers, please make contributions to Save the Children or the World Wildlife Fund.

Lancaster graduated as an associate of the British Library Association from the University of Northumbria at Newcastle, England, in 1955. After gaining experience as a senior assistant at the Newcastle-upon-Tyne Public Libraries, Lancaster immigrated to the United States in 1959. He became known for his revolutionary work in the evaluation and management of MEDLARS, the National Library of Medicine’s computerized bibliographic retrieval system for articles in academic journals in medicine and allied health professions. Though one of the earliest evaluations of a computer-based retrieval system, it continues to have a lasting impact on information systems today.

Lancaster joined GSLIS in 1970 as an associate professor and director of the biomedical librarianship program (1970-73); in 1972, he became a full professor; and in 1992, following his retirement, he was honored with the title of professor emeritus. During his distinguished career, he taught courses in information retrieval, bibliometrics, bibliographic organization, and the evaluation of library and information services. He served as the editor of Library Trends, a quarterly journal examining critical trends in professional librarianship, from 1986 to 2006. For the period from 1989 to 1992, he was named University Scholar, a prestigious program recognizing the University’s most talented teachers, scholars, and researchers.

Nationally and internationally, Lancaster was recognized as a leader in the field of library and information science through his work as a teacher, writer, and scholar. He was honored three times with Fulbright fellowships for research and teaching abroad, named a fellow of the Library Association of Great Britain, and recognized by the Association for Information Science and Technology (ASIS&T) with both the Award of Merit and the Outstanding Information Science Teacher award. He was the author of 15 books, several of which have received national awards and been translated into languages such as Arabic, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, and Portuguese. Lancaster also engaged in a wide range of consulting activities for organizations around the world, including UNESCO and the United Nations.

In 2008, Library Trends published the Festschrift, “Essays Honoring the Legacy of F. W. Lancaster” (Volume 56, Issue 4), edited by Lorraine J. Haricombe (MS ’88, PhD ’92) and Keith Russell (MS ’72), both of whom studied under Lancaster. It includes contributions from his friends, family, students, colleagues, and scholars, celebrating his achievements and paying homage to his life’s work.

“I met Professor Lancaster when I was a new library school student, and he was a new library school faculty member. He was such a natural that I thought he had been researching, writing, and teaching for many years. But most noteworthy was the interest he took in his students, their ideas, their development, and their careers. He became a lifelong friend for so many of us,” said Russell, life sciences librarian at the University of Kansas.

The Library Trends issue includes articles that highlight Lancaster's legacy in the area of underlying structure for online retrieval systems; his significant work in subject analysis, thesaurus construction, and system evaluation; his impact on measurement and evaluation in libraries; his accurate prediction of a “paperless society”; and his specialization in bibliometrics. It concludes with an interview by Leigh Estabrook, GSLIS dean emerita, who worked with Lancaster during a significant part of his career.

“Wilf was a wonderful scholar, teacher, and colleague. His influence on our field is both deep and wide and continues to be regenerated by his many former students. I will miss his intelligence, his provocative questions and his wit. He was a model of a whole human being in his love for his work and his love for his family," said Estabrook.

A detailed obituary is available online.

Comments

Honestly, I was shocked with that news, F. W. Lancaster was in particular known for his work on online retrieval including evaluation studies of the MEDLARS system. He has, however, an unusual broad and comprehensive authorship in Library and Information Science (LIS)

Dear Professionals,

It is indeed sad and shocking to know that a great,thoughtful scholar in the profession is no more.

He will be always remembered for his dedication towards the profession and futuristic thinking (paperless society).

S G Hombal

Librarian

I was shocked and am deeply saddened by Professor Emeritus Frederick Wilfrid Lancaster's passing away. I fortunately attended his lectures during his visit to School of Library and Information Science at Wuhan when I started my career as a faculty member there. I was honored to visit Wilf at his home during the 2010 iConference held in Urbana. As the Dean of Wuhan iSchool then, my visit was specially arranged to pay our respect and recognition to his contribution to library and information science. He was well-known among Chinese librarians and LIS researchers and his many visits to China had made a significant impact on the research and education of LIS in China. It is hard to believe this was my last time seeing him. Wilf was a talented researcher and teacher with a great sense of humor. I have a great respect for him both as a great thinker and wonderful person.

 

Wilf was a great friend of Wuhan iSchool. My colleagues and I would like to extend our condolences to his family. We will always remember Wilf and miss him deeply.

 

Chuanfu Chen, Professor

School of Information Management, Wuhan University, China

I first met Wilf in 1987 as his interpreter for one of his lectures giving to the library science department at Wuhan University. He pursuaded me to come to UIUC when I was applying for the Ph.D. program. A few years ago I had an opportunity to visit him at his home. During dinner I told him that he changed my life by taking me in the Ph.D. program. He smiled and joked "I also changed their lives" as he pointed to his wife and daughters. I will always remember his kindness, generousness, and the inspirations he gave me. 


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