Professor Ethel Auster (1942 - 2005)


Professor Ethel Weiss Auster, AB, MLS, Ed.D., Professor at the Faculty of Information Studies, passed away unexpectedly in her sleep on July 1, 2005. Born in Montreal on June 4, 1942, Prof. Auster graduated from Outremont High School in 1959, attended McGill University 1959 - 1960, and after two years in Cambridge, England, resumed her undergraduate education at Boston University. She obtained a Master's degree at Simmons College, also in Boston, and was the librarian at Brookline High School for two years. After the birth of her son David she returned to Canada, settling in Toronto. She resumed work as research librarian at the Toronto Board of Education, then as librarian at OISE/University of Toronto.

It was at OISE that Prof. Auster began her studies for her doctoral degree. While completing her research and dissertation, she was appointed Assistant Professor of Library Science at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. A year and a half later she returned to Toronto to join the University of Toronto, in what was then called the Faculty of Library Science.

For 23 years Prof. Auster was an esteemed and well-loved Professor at what became the Faculty of Information Studies. She served as Chair of Doctoral Studies for 15 years, guiding scores of students through the program - providing insight, research direction, and practical advice that made her a legend across the country. A brave, forthright, and committed colleague, she was a mainstay of the Faculty through a number of major changes and developments. She was also a frequent speaker at a variety of North American conferences, including those of the Canadian Library Association and the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

Prof. Auster's research dealt with libraries, management, and information use - covering such topics as the information-seeking behaviour of managers, the evaluation of online services, information dissemination, the retrenchment and downsizing of large academic libraries, and most recently the training and development needs of librarians.

The recipient of many awards, Prof. Auster was granted the Miles Blackwell Award for Outstanding Academic Librarian in June 2005 by the Canadian Association of College and University Libraries for her "outstanding national and international contribution to academic librarianship and library development." As noted in the citation, she "demonstrated this achievement through her formidable research and publishing record, in which her projects support the investigation of issues relating to academic librarians and academic libraries." The award also lauded her role as a spokesperson and leader who actively promoted academic libraries and librarianship in Canada, and the significant mentoring role she played in the careers of academic librarians.

During her career Prof. Auster published three books, co-authored two others, and wrote numerous scholarly articles. A reviewer praised her latest book, Downsizing in Academic Libraries, co-authored with Shauna Taylor (University of Toronto Press, 2004), as "ground-breaking" and "the most comprehensive survey of the impact of downsizing in Canada's university libraries." Another noted "the remarkable, even exemplary, clarity of thought behind the writing and structure." In addition, noting a property that endeared her to generations of colleagues and students, the reviewer pointed out that "refreshingly, Auster and Taylor's conclusion offers suggestions for improvement, reminding readers that 'economic downturns are part of the normal business cycle,' and concluding that the results from this study can help in getting it right the next time."

In addition to her own research, Prof. Auster served her community in many capacities: she was twice elected to the Governing Council of the University of Toronto, and over the past two years spent countless hours reviewing doctoral student award applications for the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. She had unfailing energy for doctoral students, many of whom were inspired by her forthright intellectual honesty, her unstinting regard for others, and her exacting scholarly standards. With many of them she formed lasting friendships.

Prof. Auster is survived by her son, David L. Auster, his wife Janis H. Auster, of New York City, and David's father Henry Auster, of Toronto. FIS is also proud to announce a doctoral student award in Prof. Auster's name, and is currently accepting donations for this important project. Ethel Auster made a true impact at the Faculty, and she will be tremendously missed.

Brian Cantwell Smith