Wednesday, March 8, 2017

In Memoriam: Dr. Edwin S. Gleaves

By Chuck Sherrill

Dr. Edwin Sheffield Gleaves, who served as our State Librarian and Archivist for 18 years, passed away Tuesday following a long illness. He had just marked his 81st birthday. We mourn the passing of a gentleman and scholar who provided leadership for Tennessee libraries and librarians during a long and productive career.

Dr. Edwin S. Gleaves
1936 - 2017

Dr. Gleaves grew up in West Nashville and descended from Tennessee pioneer stock. His father died when he was a teenager, and Ed was raised by his mother and his Gleaves grandparents. As a boy, he took delight in studying birds, which became a lifelong pursuit. Because he was color-blind, he learned to identify birds by their calls and habits and became a local expert on the subject. Another early passion was tennis, which he continued to enjoy well into retirement.

But, most of all, Eddie Gleaves was a boy who loved books and reading. It was that love that led him to pursue a career in libraries, and to become the talented speaker and writer that we remember so well. Always ready with an apt quotation or clever turn of phrase, he was erudite but gracious, brilliant but approachable, a man of both lofty ideas and practical action.

Following a bachelor’s degree in English from David Lipscomb College, Ed Gleaves earned his M.A. in Library Science and his Ph.D. in English Literature from Emory University in Atlanta. Once, when I was at a low point, he told me that he had been fired from his first library directorship. I was astonished, and listened to his story with growing admiration. He helped me to accept that success is always balanced by setbacks, and overcoming adversity makes us stronger.

For 20 years he taught Library School students at Peabody College in Nashville, and was serving as Dean of the program when it became part of Vanderbilt University. Through these years he guided and encouraged many up-and-coming librarians. He was greatly admired, and in later years it was rare to go anywhere with Dr. Gleaves without some former student coming up to greet him.

As Ed himself once wrote, in 1987 he “left the ivory tower of higher education for the bullring of state government,” becoming Tennessee’s State Librarian and Archivist. He soon became the foremost champion for the use of technology in libraries and one of the earliest adopters of email, databases and the Internet. The Tennessee Electronic Library, an indispensable resource in libraries today, was his conception and he worked with state and federal officials to make it a reality.

I first met Dr. Gleaves when he led a seminar about computers in libraries in 1986; the concepts were brand new to me and most of the seminar went right over my head. But I admired his intellect and enthusiasm, and he inspired me to learn more. In subsequent years he became my boss, my mentor and my friend. He and his beloved wife Janey befriended me and my family, and he encouraged me at every step of my career. Tennessee was blessed to have such a fine librarian and leader; knowing and working with him enriched my life, and I know many others can say the same.

Chuck Sherrill
State Librarian and Archivist
Tennessee State Library & Archives
March 8, 2017

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State

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