By Ryan Hedrick
Charles “Chuck” Davis, a longtime fixture of the Information and Library Science department here at Indiana University and in the larger Bloomington community, passed away Sept. 24, 2020, at the age of 82. With this being the first ILS departmental newsletter since 2020, it felt appropriate to recognize Davis’ life.
Born and raised in Indiana, Davis earned his B.S. degree in chemistry from IU with a combined minor in math and physics. After a couple of different career stops, including a fellowship at the University of Munich in Germany, Davis returned to IU to further his education. He earned an M.A. in library science en route to a Ph.D. in information science in 1969. His research focused on computer programs dealing with chemical information retrieval.
In 1969, Davis was hired as an assistant professor at the Drexel University Graduate School of Library Science. He left Drexel for a position as a tenured associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Library Science, and then as a Professor and Dean of the Faculty of Library Science at the University of Alberta, Canada. In 1979 he settled at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign as the Dean of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science. He stayed there until retiring in 1993 as Professor Emeritus. Davis then returned to IU as a Senior Fellow and Adjunct Professor of Library and Information Science and a full member of the IU Graduate Faculty.
Across his career, Davis authored and contributed to numerous articles and books. He was also an active member of the American Society for Information Science throughout his career, even serving as the national president from 1982 to 1983.
Davis is survived by his wife, and former Dean of the School of Library and Information Science, Dr. Debora “Ralf” Shaw. Shaw, giving context to her husband’s long history at IU, recalled how different the university was during Davis’ early years on campus. For example, Davis was around when IU’s main library was housed in Franklin Hall.
Many of Davis’ former colleagues, friends and students wanted to recount their memories of the man. Gary Wiggins, MLS ‘71, PhD ‘85 and former head of the IU Chemistry Library, spoke of the impact Davis had on the chemical information retrieval field over his decades-long career. “Chuck was clearly a major voice in the field,” Wiggins said, pointing to the success of the books Davis authored and edited.
Outside of contributions to his field, Davis, who played both the baritone saxophone and the clarinet, is fondly remembered for his passion for music. James Lockwood, MLS 1990 and an alum of the same high school as Davis, recounted the pleasure of attending his own 50th high school reunion and finding Davis there with old band mates to perform a surprise “concert.” Howard Rosenbaum, current Graduate Program Director and MIS Program Director at IU, spoke about seeing Davis playing with the Bloomington Community Band at the Bloomington Farmers’ Market.
However, people seem to remember Davis most for his magnetic personality. John Old, PhD ‘03, said Davis was invaluable to him while pursuing his Ph.D. at IU. “Chuck Davis was my Ph.D. Committee chair at IU. His enthusiasm and positive attitude saw me through some difficult times as a student…” said Old. “He always greeted me with a smile and good eye contact, that reflected an attitude that was more collegial than student-professor.”
Merri Beth Lavagnino, MLS ‘89, also spoke of Davis’ warmth. “He made you feel welcome…this meant a lot to me as a student studying to become a professional in the field,” She said. “He was quite a jokester too, although many of his jokes involved chemistry in one way or another. I didn’t always understand his jokes but I laughed anyway!”
Linda Rae (Smith) Hiatt, a GLS student (‘67) and long-time friend, recalled many conversations that Davis had with his friend and mentor, Dr. Peter Hiatt. “Listening to these two friends and polymaths converse was dizzying and far-ranging, from the mundane (what time should we play tennis), to the ridiculous (who could make the last pun on the other’s–this could go on for many minutes), to the serious and academic, a collaboration on a project that would allow public libraries to alert patrons to new books in their areas of interest. This selective dissemination of information (SDI) had previously been used only in corporate special libraries, and they were enthusiastic about how this special service could help public library patrons.”
We here at the Department of Information & Library Science are thankful for the continued support from the Davis family through the Charles A. and Charles H. Davis Fellowship in Scientific Information and the Debora Shaw Diversity Scholarship.