Sheila Dowd Memorial

Image Source: liz west under Creative Commons,

Former head of collections Sheila Dowd, who passed away recently, will be honored on April 10 at a memorial event in the Morrison Library, from 5 to 7 pm.

If you would like to make a contribution in honor of her memory, please make it to the Sheila T. Dowd Endowment for Western European Collections. Checks may be sent to the Development Office in 131 Doe, Berkeley CA 94720-6000, or contributions made online (select Library Fund, and enter the endowment name in the field indicated for special instructions).

Obituary found below.


Sheila Dowd, Remembered

Sheila T. Dowd, the University of California at Berkeley’s head of collections for 15 years, died peacefully in her home at The Redwoods, in Mill Valley, on March 2, 2015.

Born to Irish immigrants in Berkeley, in 1925, and reared in Walnut Creek, Sheila displayed an early love of books. At 7, her life highlighted by weekly visits to the public library, the job of librarian caught her eye and kindled an aspiration; she thought, “Someone gets paid to be here every day?” She received a bachelor of arts degree in English, cum laude, from the College of the Holy Names, in Oakland, in 1947, and the following year earned a library science degree at U.C. Berkeley.

She began her career in 1948, when she accepted an appointment with the U.S. Army Special Services as a librarian in Heidelberg, Germany. She later wrote, “It was a sobering time to be in Europe. The war’s destruction was still widely evident and local economies were struggling to begin a recovery. But the beauties and cultural riches of the continent were again becoming accessible, and young Army librarians seized every opportunity to explore their surroundings.” The experience turned Sheila into an inveterate European traveler. After a two-year stint in Germany, in 1951 the U.S. Information Service hired her to manage a library serving the French public in Marseille. Her two years there sparked an enduring love of the language, architecture, churches, food, and people of France.

In 1953 she launched her 35-year U.C. Berkeley career by taking a job as a social science reference librarian. She soon moved to the map room and government documents department. For two decades, in addition to developing the documents collection (with special responsibilities for France, French territories, and Africa), she developed the general library’s principal map collection, including selecting maps for acquisition, managing the maps fund, and providing reference service to users. It was work at which she excelled and which gave her great joy. She was also one of the co-founders of the Western Association of Map Libraries in 1967.

Sheila’s intelligence, assiduousness, dedication, humor, and humility made her a gifted leader, and, in 1974, when the library merged two units into the Department of Collection Development and Reference Services, she was named its head. There she shaped the library’s collections, formulating policy guidelines and preparing and allocating its annual book budget. In addition, she oversaw 65 librarians providing reference, information, and instructional services for library users. She embraced the chance to serve the world’s best researchers by building a collection that met their needs. She built a national reputation, holding leadership roles in the American Library Association, the Association of Research Libraries, and the Research Libraries Group, as well as on the editorial board of the Journal of Academic Librarianship. Upon her retirement, in 1988, she was awarded the university’s highest honor, The Berkeley Citation, for distinguished service.

Those who knew Sheila will recall her wit, erudition, spirit, curiosity, and love of conversation. Her impeccable prose graced all she wrote, from office memos to elegant correspondence; and she could amuse herself in dull meetings by taking notes in verse. She loved 19th-century novels, including those of Anthony Trollope, Jane Austen, and Henry James; the poems of William Butler Yeats; Italian opera and mid-20th century American pop standards; the Democratic Party of Franklin Delano Roosevelt; and the Roman Catholic Church. She was generous and loyal to family and a legion of friends. She had a ready smile and a full and lovely laugh. She continued to live a life filled with culture and travel and friends until declining health limited her last years. She touched many, and she’ll be missed terribly.

Survivors include her step-sister, Patricia McCormick, of Novato; six nieces and nephews; Father James Walsh, a cousin, of Sacramento; and many relatives in County Kerry, Ireland.

A funeral mass will be held at 10 a.m. on Thurs., April 9, at Our Lady Of Mount Carmel Church, 3 Oakdale Ave., Mill Valley. A memorial will be held from 5-7 p.m. on Fri., April 10, in the Morrison Library of Doe Library, on the U.C. Berkeley campus. Contributions in her memory may be made to the Sheila T. Dowd Endowment for the Western European Collections, sent to the Library Development Office, 131 Doe Library, UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720-6000.