Robert Harlan (photo by Nancy Van House)
Apr 9, 2014

Professor Emeritus Robert Harlan is Dead at 84

Robert D. Harlan, professor emeritus in the UC Berkeley School of Information, passed away on April 8, 2014. He was 84.

Harlan was born in Hastings, Nebraska, in 1929, the son of a traveling salesman and the grandson of Nebraska pioneers and homesteaders. He served in the army shortly after World War II and attended Hastings College (B.A. ’50, English and history), the University of Nebraska, and the University of Michigan (M.A., history; M.L.S. ’56 and Ph.D. ’60, library science).

Following three years at the University of Southern California library school, Harlan joined the faculty of the UC Berkeley School of Librarianship in 1963. At Berkeley, Harlan taught courses in reference, bibliography, and history of libraries. Harlan served as the associate dean of the School of Librarianship for a number of years, and was the acting dean from 1985 to 1986.

He was also a scholar of early printing practices. He researched the export of books from Britain to the American colonies, the development of the fine printing movement in the Bay Area in the mid-20th century, and 19th century printing in San Francisco. His books include William Strahan: Eighteenth Century London Printer and Publisher (1960); John Henry Nash: The Biography of a Career (1970); At the Sign of the Lark: William Doxey's San Francisco Publishing Venture (1983); and The Bookseller & the Architect (1990).

Harlan’s thirty years on the Berkeley faculty were a time of many transitions for the library school. In 1970, the school moved out of the main library and into South Hall, the oldest building on the Berkeley campus. In the 1970’s, the school branched out to teach introductory courses for Berkeley undergraduates. In 1976, the school changed its name from the School of Librarianship to the School of Library and Information Studies. Throughout the 1980s, as traditional library schools across the country closed, the school struggled with its role and its future. Eventually, the campus decided to close down the School of Library and Information Studies and start a new professional school in its place.

Harlan retired from the faculty in 1993, shortly before the founding of the School of Information (then the School of Information Management and Systems).

Following his retirement, he continued to volunteer at Berkeley’s Bancroft Library, researching, documenting, and cataloging information about historical printing and ephemera. He also conducted a series of oral histories of 20th-century printers, as part of the library’s regional oral history project. He was also an active member of Bay Area conservation and animal welfare organizations, including the Sierra Club, the Nature Conservancy, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and the SPCA.

Last updated:

October 4, 2016