Giles Barber (15th August 1930 - 12th March 2012)

Giles Barber, Librarian of the Taylor Institution from 1970 – 1996, died in France on 12th March 2012. The following tribute by Jill Hughes first appeared in Outline, the Bodleian Libraries staff newsletter, on 1st April 2012


Giles Gaudard Barber was Oxford born and bred, the only child of Eric Arthur Barber, Rector of Exeter College, and his Swiss French wife Madeleine. Giles was educated at the Dragon School and Leighton Park School (Reading) and then, after National Service, at St John’s College, Oxford. He read Modern Languages (French and Latin) and took Finals in 1954. His first job was as a ‘temporary trainee library clerk’ in the Bodleian bookstack, but after eight months he was moved to the permanent staff. He spent 15 years in the Bodleian – a friendly and approachable figure in the Lower Reading Room.

On 1 October 1970, he took up office as the fifth Librarian of the Taylor Institution, just a few months after the tragic death of his first wife in a road accident outside the Taylorian. Giles threw himself into beautifying and updating the Taylorian over the next 26 years. There were transformations from attics to basement. The smoke-grimed woodwork of the Main Reading Room was cleaned and restored, the Voltaire Room was opened in 1975 in what had previously been a gloomy lecture room, and the basement was gutted in the 1980s and equipped with mobile shelving, which allowed open access to a large alphabetical sequence of journals as well as making provision for fast-growing new subject areas such as Latin American literature and Yiddish. In the early 1990s HEFCE funding was made available for major projects, allowing the automation of the guardbook and card catalogues. However, Giles drew the line at automating circulation on the grounds that he must leave something for his successor to do! He was an early promoter of book preservation and was Chairman of the Libraries Board Preservation Committee and organizer of a series of seminars on the subject in 1992. The Clarkson foam bookrests stemmed from one of his ideas.

Giles was an avid collector of books for the Library and helped to build up the 18th-century French collections. He was proud of the fact that he checked booksellers’ catalogues early in the morning and beat other libraries to the purchase of rare items. In 1992, thanks to Giles’s particular interest in this area, the Library was bequeathed a collection of more than one thousand volumes of 18th-century French novels by Prof Vivienne Mylne.

In addition to all this Giles was a Fellow of Linacre College, part-time University Lecturer in Continental Bibliography and at various times President of the Oxford Bibliographical Society, Chairman of the Voltaire Foundation, Visiting Lecturer at the Sorbonne, Panizzi Lecturer, author of innumerable articles and of Arks for Learning: A Short History of Oxford Library Buildings. He worked for many years on a project to catalogue the bookbindings of Waddesdon Manor; this is due to be published later this year – sadly, now, posthumously.

Jill Hughes

Acting Librarian in Charge, Taylor Institution Library

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