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LIVES LIVED: Don Redmond

Donald A. Redmond, the first professional librarian to head the Queen’s library system, died Oct. 22 at the age of 92.

All Donald A. Redmond’s predecessors had been scholars who dabbled in books, but by 1966, when DAR – my father – arrived as chief librarian, things were changing. Computers made their first tentative appearance during his years in office, and before he ended his term as chief in 1977, the library had experienced the unionization of its non-professional staff, a sign of how things would be changing in the rest of the university as well.

Donald A. Redmond
Donald A. Redmond, seen here in 1986, leafs through a bible from the bible collection in Douglas Library. (Supplied photo)

DAR had originally been a chemistry graduate of Mount Allison University, but changed course to study library science at McGill and the University of Illinois. He held posts in Nova Scotia and Kansas before coming to Queen’s, but also took overseas assignments with the Colombo Plan development agency and Unesco, spending a year in Sri Lanka and a year in Turkey to help build science and engineering libraries. In Sri Lanka, where professional librarians were unknown, he developed a crash course to train them, and the students presented him with a massive engraved brass tray by way of personal thanks. One of the graduates of that course later came to Canada and worked in the Queen’s libraries.

My father, who could be alternately courtly and stubborn, sometimes found himself in conflicts, but he also let his sense of fun and his love of learning penetrate his professional work. At one point he arranged for cards in the Douglas Library card catalogue (yes, there were card catalogues in those days) to be grouped strategically so the labels on the drawers would include incongruous pairings. He enjoyed tinkering with the library’s sign-making machine and, more seriously, escaped administrative and budgetary work at times to take a hands-on interest in the rare books Bible collection.

Outside working hours he maintained a broad list of interests: railways, fire engines, Meccano (a construction toy beloved of adult tinkerers), local history, church administration, and, most of all, Sherlock Holmes and Arthur Conan Doyle. He was a Baker Street Irregular for 45 years, and in the early 1970s he helped create a Doyle collection at the Metropolitan Toronto Reference Library, which is now an international centre for such studies. When he ended his term as chief librarian he took a year’s study leave in England, doing research that led to publication of Sherlock Holmes: A Study in Sources by McGill-Queen’s University Press. A second book, Sherlock Holmes Among the Pirates, was a detailed bibliographical study of how American copyright law affected the publication of the Holmes tales.

He was the organizer of two ‘Weekend with Sherlock Holmes’ gatherings at the Donald Gordon Centre, in 1980 and 1981, bringing enthusiasts together with interested Queen’s alumni. Victorian costume was the order of the day there: someone recalled, following his death last month, that “he could rock a bowler hat like nobody else.” He leaves behind many memories, as well as his widow, Ruth, and three children, two of us Queen’s graduates and one of us, Derek Redmond, a long-time lecturer in the Department of Film Studies.

Chris Redmond is the former editor of the Gazette at the University of Waterloo, a position he held for 39 years.