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Information Scotland

The Journal of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland

ISSN 1743-5471

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August 2008 Volume 6(4)

Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland

Obituary: Brian D. Osborne

Brian D. Osborne, librarian and author, died on Friday 30 May while on holiday following the Silk Road through Uzbekistan. He has been interred in that country. Brian was born in Glasgow in 1941, and brought up in Helensburgh in a well-known local family. He was educated at Hermitage Academy in Helensburgh, and later graduated from the Open University. He immersed himself in books from an early age and was not ashamed to admit that as a child he never got picked for the football team, but read everything he could get his hands on.

Thankfully, his early choice of bookselling as a career proved to be no more than a flirtation. The public library service beckoned, and there is photographic evidence from 1962 of a young man with smartly-combed hair working behind the staff counter at Dumbarton Library.

That young man rose to become Dumbarton’s Deputy District Librarian, with ambitions to rise higher. However, not getting the top job of District Librarian when the post fell vacant in 1979 was probably one of the best things that ever happened to Brian – if Dumbarton wouldn’t have him, then he must pursue his ambitions elsewhere.

It was Midlothian which snapped him up as District Librarian in 1983, a time when that authority awaited modernisation. Brian took on this task readily: a publications programme was introduced; activities and events of all sorts were regularly promoted; libraries were refurbished; opening hours were extended; staff restructuring was implemented. To quote one Midlothian councillor of the day: “Mr Osborne is fizzing with good ideas,” – Brian liked that description.

His move to Strathkelvin in 1989 as Chief Officer, Libraries and Museums, brought the challenge of designing a new library for Kirkintilloch. His response was the creation of a bright, modern, spacious library set in a prime position within the town centre.

It was during the Midlothian and Strathkelvin days that his involvement in professional activities developed, initially through the Central Scotland Training Group, then as the Scottish Library Association’s Publications Officer, and ultimately as President of the SLA in 1992. Even after his retirement in 1995, he remained active in professional affairs, carrying out freelance and consultancy work. Driven by a sharp intelligence, keen reasoning and good common sense, Brian made a significant contribution to the work of the professional association in Scotland.

Early retirement released him to do what he really wanted to do, and what he was best at – research, writing, immersing himself in the literary life of Scotland.

His involvement with research, writing and publication had started with local history titles produced by Dumbarton Libraries. He continued this interest in Midlothian where he enthusiastically introduced a publications programme which featured both facsimile reprints of out-of-print local works and new titles based on original research. At the same time, as the SLA’s Publications Officer, he broke new ground, commissioning new Scottish-interest titles which often provided a showcase for the local studies collections of Scotland’s public library authorities.

Thereafter, Brian really got into his stride; he published three biographies – Braxfield, the hanging judge?, The Ingenious Mr. Bell, The Last of the Chiefs; these were highly original works in contrasted fields. He collaborated with Ronnie Armstrong in the compilation of various Scottish literary anthologies; he edited, introduced and annotated many of the works of Neil Munro and wrote several other books on different topics. He was also a regular contributor of articles on matters of Scottish heritage and history to a number of journals, particularly The Scots Magazine. Two plays, again written with Ronnie Armstrong, were staged at The Byre Theatre, St Andrews and at Perth Theatre. All of those activities have secured for Brian a lasting place in Scotland’s cultural life. His final full-length work, a study of the Home Guard in Scotland is due for publication in the spring of 2009.

Of crucial importance was his work with Ronald Armstrong, Ronald Renton and others in re-assessing and reinvigorating the reputation of Neil Munro through the work of the Neil Munro Society, of which he became the first secretary, and in other ways. Munro was known for his Para Handy tales, but his novels and other works had been sadly neglected. It is to the Society’s credit that in recent years all of Munro’s major titles have been reprinted with modern introductions, a full biography written by a granddaughter of Munro has been published, and a volume of critical essays, edited by Brian and Ronald Renton, has appeared. This is a literary achievement of a very high order.

Brian understood the importance of books and reading. In his presidential address to the Scottish Library Association, he lamented that as a profession and as individuals librarians play too small a role in the book world in Scotland. Brian could never be accused of that. From an early date he was active within the Scottish Book Marketing Group, he served on the Scottish Arts Council Literature Committee and on the committee of the Society of Authors in Scotland. Only a short time ago, he was appointed as Vice Chair at Publishing Scotland, the new guise for the Scottish Publishers’ Association.

Brian was an elder and devoted member of his local church, St Columba’s, Kirkintilloch, where he was active in the affairs of the congregation, and edited the church magazine. The values he brought from that involvement were evident in all that he undertook.

There were so many aspects to Brian’s life. He was widely known and respected. He brought his energetic personality to everything he did, and will be missed by many people for his sense of humour, his wit and intelligence.

He is survived by his father.

Alan Reid, Library Services Manager, Midlothian Council

I was about to set off for the funeral of my mother-in-law when I heard of the death of my old friend Brian Osborne.

He was a hard-working and distinguished librarian, and he and I worked together on many projects within the Scottish Library Association, which we both served as President on different occasions, on SLIC, and on working parties.

For the last several years we alternated writing the Endpiece column in Information Scotland. Our joint brief, though it was more informal than that, was to write about things we hoped might interest our fellow professionals, but from a literary angle. Brian was always entertaining and informative in his pieces, erudite but never dull. We were both heavily involved in literature – myself in poetry and Brian in innumerable literary and historical societies.

He was a prolific author and editor in his own right, and his writing style was clear and straightforward. We got together as often as we could, and I enjoyed his warmth, his wit, his positive outlook on life, his fund of anecdotes, and his sense that life was fun.

Colin Will

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Information Scotland Vol. 6(4) August 2008

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Last updated: 29-Aug-2008