A tribute to John Hobbins

by Kendall Wallis

John Hobbins’ career began at McGill in the Reference Department of Redpath Library in 1967; today he would be called the “History Liaison Librarian.” John received an honours degree in History from McGill, and History has captivated him ever since.

John pioneered the use of the Library’s first conference room for classes with handson bibliographic instruction sessions; students actually got to touch real books and indexes! Building on that success, he became the campus-wide coordinator of library instruction, quite a task in a decentralized system with 26 libraries. But John persevered in another lifelong commitment; building bridges between librarians in all areas. As Instructional Services Coordinator, John was one of the founders of WILU, the Workshop on Instruction in Library Use, for 40 years the premier Canadian venue for exchange of ideas in library literacy.

In 1984, John’s career path moved behind the scenes and he accepted the challenge of reorganizing the Acquisitions Department. In 1990, he became Associate Director of Libraries with responsibility for Technical Services, a post he held until 2003. He concurrently held an astonishing variety of Acting administrative positions: Acting Systems Librarian off and on from 1994 to 1997, Acting McLennan Librarian from 1997 to 2000 and Acting Law Librarian 1988- 1989 and from 2000 to 2003, and full-time Law Librarian from 2003 to 2009. John has played all the roles in the play. Only those who know him well remember where that acting ability came from, for it is not innate. John is naturally shy and retiring. He practiced his Stanley Holloway English music-hall routines on his colleagues for years. Over the western entrance of New Chancellor Day Hall, formerly home of the Law Library, is the legal maxim, “Audi alteram partem” (“Listen to the other side”). This has been John’s guiding principle for his entire career and it is appropriate that he should have wound up in Law. As mentor to junior librarians and advisor to academic colleagues both in the Library and without, John has proven a loyal and resourceful defender of collegial principles and fought to uphold the best traditions of fairness and natural law.

In the Gelber Law Library, John discovered the papers of John Peters Humphrey, former Dean of Law and real author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and has edited four volumes of Humphrey’s Diaries, entitled On the Edge of Greatness. John has published 26 articles in refereed journals and collections in the field of human rights, history and legal history and librarianship and has given many addresses of a scholarly and popular nature on this and allied subjects, at venues far and near.

Few of his colleagues have explored and experienced more of University academic life than John has. His service to the Library, the University, the Profession, and the wider academic community has always borne the stamp of collegiality, cooperation, natural justice, and fair-mindedness. In recognition of his work and service, last year he received the Library’s Career Recognition Award. In retirement, John plans to continue his work on the writings of John Humphrey, spreading the light of this Canadian champion of Human Rights ever wider.

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