Professor Emeritus F. W. Lancaster passes away

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.

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