Remember how back in August I mentioned the faculty member who passed away? At the time, my emotions were too raw to be able to write anything. As time began to pass, however, the words came, and I ended up writing a piece for the school newsletter (with very helpful contributions from my friend, Linda Carroll). I thought I’d post it here as well.
On Saturday, August 2, 2008, GSLIS lost one of its greats when Professor Allen Smith passed away. In his thirty years at Simmons, Allen touched thousands of lives; Dean Cloonan estimates that the number could be as high as 4,500. Four thousand and five hundred students — nearly half of the Simmons GSLIS body of 10,000 alumni — took Allen’s teachings about reference, humanities, oral history, and yes, back in the day, computer programming, with them into the library world. To merely say that his influence was far-reaching doesn’t begin to describe the impact he had on our personal and professional lives.
Is there anyone who sat in his class who can’t recall his presence as he stood in the front of the room as we tried to absorb every nuance of his 70-page list of reference sources? How we hoped to impress him — or at least not disappoint him — and what joy it was when he smiled and nodded when the answer we gave was one that unexpectedly pleased him. (If only I’d been the one to think of bringing the reference librarian as my one thing to bring into his exam. To whoever you are — kudos. “That was a good one,” he said in his characteristic understated way. With a smile on his face, though, and a twinkle in his eye that indicated exactly how monumentally perfect your choice was.)
Though he could sometimes seem, well, curmudgeonly — yes, those were his sighs that
could be heard buildings away from where the faculty meetings were being held — he lived for his students. They were the ones who made him smile when laughter was otherwise hard to come by. They were the ones who especially pleased him with their energy and excitement. When students in one of his classes came to the last day of Reference wearing t-shirts with the words “Deliberate Searchers” emblazoned across them, that was a day you’d be hard-pressed to find a happier guy. “They get it,” he said. And they got it with unmistakable humor, respect, and love.
In the week after Allen died, the tributes came from all quarters — there was the “Remembering Allen Smith” group on Facebook started by former students, the posting from his fellow farriers, the wiki page with favorite Allen-isms, the shared e-mails and conversations and blog posts and notes from far and wide. His legacy is continued by the legion of former students and colleagues searching deliberately, seeking bibliographic control, and explaining to the IRS why it is that everything we librarians do is legitimately deductible. And although some of us will use more exclamation points than he would have allowed, every single one of them will make us think of our teacher, our colleague, our friend, Allen Smith.
Allen, the third floor of Palace Road will always feel a little empty. May you and Merrill rest together in eternal peace. You are deeply missed.
We collected the links for the online version of the newsletter. If you’d like to read more about Allen, please see http://web.simmons.edu/~lislive/infolink/#allen.