Library News, Library Staff

In Memory of Dr. James P. McCabe, Former Library Director

By Michael Wares, Assistant Director for Technical Services

The Fordham University Libraries mourn the loss of former library director Dr. James P. McCabe, and celebrate the legacy of his 22-year tenure. Jim died on September 15th, 2021, at the age of 84.

When he arrived at Fordham in July 1990, it seemed that he faced two major challenges, one long realized, one rapidly developing. New library facilities at Rose Hill had been needed since the 1940s, and at Lincoln Center since the 1960s. At the same time, it was becoming apparent that an electronic revolution in library service and resources was at hand.

Jim had barely moved into his office in Duane Library when he was engrossed in the complexities of the design, construction, and furnishing of Walsh Library. It would have been a full-time job just to deal with the development of the new building, but he took on the electronic challenge at the same time. In fact, even before he officially assumed the role of director, he had visited Fordham, met with library and IT staff, and reviewed the options for a future automated system for the libraries’ internal operations. The complexity and size of the questions had led to paralysis in the past. Jim made a sound decision, and said for the first time (but certainly not the last), “let’s do it.”

Before ground was broken for the new building, Jim began introducing databases to supplement our print holdings, and a document delivery system to provide fast access to journal articles not available in our libraries. There were those who questioned the expense, or whether our users would take to the new services. Again Jim said “let’s do it”, and we have never looked back. But even as the wealth of new online resources became available, he didn’t ignore print, and as Walsh Library took shape in the mid-1990s he oversaw the doubling of our rate of book acquisitions.

Although it seemed that he was doing two full-time jobs, he also managed the day-to-day operation of the Rose Hill libraries (Duane, Keating Annex, and Science) with an attention to detail that was never micromanagement, innovation that was never disruptive, and a vision that was always grounded in reality.

James P. McCabe at the Walsh Library construction site.

And there was a third great challenge, less obvious than the old need for library space and the new need for increased resources. The libraries at Rose Hill, Lincoln Center, and in Westchester had evolved separately.  The individual Fordham libraries were isolated from each other – few of the staff at Rose Hill and Lincoln Center even knew each other, and hardly anyone from either of those campuses had ever visited the Fordham operations on the campus of Marymount College in Tarrytown. The Fordham libraries as a whole were insular, with little connection or cooperation with other New York academic libraries. Jim introduced University-wide staff meetings, intensified the training of Fordham librarians, and led Fordham into a more active role among New York libraries, to the point that Jim served terms as president of the two local library organizations, METRO and WALDO.

James P. McCabe outside of Walsh Library (1997).

He was tireless in his efforts to satisfy the needs of library users, and demanding but patient in the development of library staff. And with all he accomplished, he was never too busy to find time for faculty or students, staff or visitors; nor too dignified to pick up litter or straighten books on the shelves. When a leaking roof threatened the former Keating Library Annex, he was the first to climb the shelves to rig plastic covers; when every book in the collection needed a barcode label affixed in the summer of 1991, he served his four hours a day with the rest of the staff.

Jim McCabe impacted all of those who have passed through any of Fordham’s libraries, or encountered them online, since 1990. He transformed the physical libraries, the libraries’ place in the lives of our students and faculty, and the very way our librarians go about their work.

The monuments to his achievements are the libraries themselves, their rich collections, the service our users have received, and the fond memories of a grateful Fordham.

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