In Memoriam: Patricia Dewdney

The FIMS community was saddened to learn of the passing of retired Western LIS faculty member Patricia Dewdney on March 12, 2020 in London, Ontario. Pat is remembered very fondly by many colleagues and alumni of the former School of Library and Information Science and she will be greatly missed. Reflections from some of Pat’s former colleagues and students are below.

From Catherine Ross, former FIMS Dean, Professor Emerita and Pat’s doctoral supervisor

“Following a distinguished career at the London Public Library, Pat came to Western in the early 1980s to enter the PhD program in the then School of Library and Information Science (SLIS). Motivating her to leave practice and pursue research was one key question that emerged from her work on the front lines: why do library users ask questions the way they do? Why do they ask, ‘Where do you keep your books on transportation?’ when they really want to know the date of the completion of the incline railway in San Francisco. And what communication skills do librarians need in order to get to the real question rather than just saying, ‘Our transportation books are over there.’

In her doctoral research, completed in 1986 under the supervision of Catherine Ross, Pat conducted a field experiment which involved training public librarians in communication skills and audio-recording reference transactions in libraries involving real users. This work became the basis for over 50 workshops that she and colleagues convened with professional librarians in Canada and the US. It also gave rise to two co-authored books, Communicating Professionally and Conducting the Reference Interview, and many research articles and research collaborations. Pat was immediately recruited to the faculty of SLIS. Until 1998 she taught required MLIS courses on reference, research methods, professional communication and a doctoral course on Information Needs and Uses. She was a much-in-demand supervisor of doctoral students, who as faculty members working around the world have carried on her legacy in their own research and teaching.”

From Lynne McKechnie, Professor Emerita, former student and friend

“Pat was beloved, truly beloved. I was lucky (among other students) to have Pat on my PhD Advisory Committee. She was a great scholarly mentor. But more than anything else she was full of savvy info on how to survive a PhD. We shared a background in practice. She was a founder of the Crouch Neighbourhood Resource Centre and, at that time, the branch librarian. She became infamous at LPL for hiring Gordon Price as the children’s / teen librarian. He was a rebel and an innovator and a source of endless trouble for the library. He hired me when he became Branch Head. So Pat and I shared a background – we both worked at Crouch (the best job I ever had).

From Pam McKenzie, current professor and friend

“Pat’s research was at the forefront of the ‘user-centred turn’ in library and information science, focusing on how to make both services and collections more accessible. Her 1986 PhD thesis explored the effectiveness of training reference librarians in interpersonal communication skills. With SLIS coauthors Gillian Michell and Catherine Ross, she analyzed effective reference interviews as well as miscommunications on the reference desk. In 1989, Pat and Catherine Ross published Communicating Professionally, a guide for librarians whose third edition continues to be used today. With colleague Roma Harris, Pat studied the ways that formal help systems organize information on intimate partner violence. Their 1994 book, Barriers to Information: How Formal Help Systems Fail Battered Women, produced important findings that shaped the ways that intimate partner violence information is presented.

Pat taught actively in the MLIS program for many years, and was a very highly regarded scholarly mentor. She supervised two PhD students (Christine Brown, now Head, Humanities & Social Sciences / Law Libraries at the University of Alberta, and Karen Fisher, Professor at the Information School at the University of Washington). In addition she served as a committee member or informal mentor for an entire generation of LIS scholars graduating from Western. Her former doctoral students remember her as a wonderful person and fantastic teacher, and also as an avid gardener with a back yard full of magnificent roses.”

From Heidi Julien, PhD’97 (LIS), former student

“I remember Pat as a kind and generous mentor, who always made herself available to her students. Pat insisted on high standards, and set an excellent example of a committed scholar who balanced impactful research with a positive attitude and attentiveness to her students’ needs. I am grateful for having had the opportunity to learn from her.”