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June 26, 2014

Obituary: Margaret Mary Kimmel

Kimmel obitIn an oral history Margaret Mary Kimmel gave to the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) in 1995, for which she had served as president in the previous decade, she told the interviewer:

“From my vantage point as an educator, the need for people who are concerned about how children acquire knowledge, about reading, about books, about listening and life, about information in whatever form it takes – the need for us in the society – is more than it’s ever been before. I think that we need to work with all of those other adults who are concerned. I see our contribution as being unique in that … but I see us as keepers of the story in the same way that storytellers are keepers of tradition.”

Kimmel, professor emerita in the School of Information Sciences’ Department of Library and Information Science, died June 10, 2014.

She joined the University faculty in 1978 as an associate professor in that department, which she chaired 1990-95. She was granted tenure in 1979 and attained the rank of professor in 1983. She also directed the interdisciplinary program in children’s literature undergraduate certificate program jointly run by the School of Education and the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences.

Children’s literature long was the focus of her career. She was the editor of the University of Pittsburgh Press series of Golden Triangle Books for young people, 1999-2002, and co-author of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood: Children, Television and Fred Rogers” from the Press and of “For Reading Out Loud! A Guide to Sharing Books With Children” from Dell. She also authored the children’s book “Magic in the Mist.”

Her most recent publication came with co-author Mark Collins in September 2008: “The Wonder of It All: Fred Rogers and the Story of an Icon,” published by the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College, where she had been named a fellow the year before. She also advised Rogers’s show during its production years.

Kimmel contributed journal articles and reviews to many prominent publications in her field, including columns in publications by Family Communications (the company that produced Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood), and appeared on television news and public radio broadcasts from Pittsburgh to Toronto and Salt Lake City.

In her department, she chaired the committee on doctoral studies for a year, the curriculum committee for two years, the faculty search committee four times, and took on many other roles. She was president of the school’s senate, as well as chair and member of numerous committees.

For the University as a whole, she served on the provost’s advisory committees on women, on University-wide access and on academic computing. She was a member of Faculty Assembly 1988-91 and of its student affairs committee.

Her research focused on school children’s reading abilities and the state of children’s services in public libraries.

Mary K. Biagini, a colleague in Kimmel’s department and director of the library certification program, had worked with Kimmel since 1988, when Kimmel mentored Biagini as a doctoral student. Biagini also was associate dean for a time during Kimmel’s tenure as department chair.

“She was a wonderful teacher,” Biagini recalled. “She was a master storyteller and actually her storytelling skills really enhanced her skills as a teacher. She had a way of engaging her students and really stressed the service aspect – the public good – of being a librarian, the value that would come to children and their parents.

“She was just a person you wanted to be around,” Biagini added, “because she was always optimistic and cheerful.” Kimmel’s service to the community also was quite impressive: “Everyone admired how she was able to encourage people in so many ways to be a part of literacy and children’s literature.”

Kimmel was born May 12, 1938, in Gary, Indiana. Her earliest work experience came as a school media specialist in an elementary school library in Gary, and she eventually worked as children’s librarian at the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore.

After attending Dominican University’s Rosary College in Illinois, where she earned both a BA in history and a Master of Library Science degree, she completed her PhD at Pitt in 1980, writing a dissertation titled, “Professional Striving and the Orientation of Public Libraries Toward Lower Class/Lower Status Patrons.”

During her Pitt career, Kimmel was honored by many local and national institutions, including the ALSC, Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh and Seton Hill College, which awarded her an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh created a scholarship in her honor for a staff member to attend Kimmel’s school, and she received the Chancellor’s Distinguished Service Award from Pitt in 1996.

Kimmel was a visiting professor at the College of Librarianship in Wales for two years, which allowed her to study European libraries and library education. She was in much demand as a speaker, workshop facilitator and consultant across the country, at libraries, conferences, school districts and government organizations. She served as an officer for many professional associations: The American Association of Library Schools (later the Association of Library and Information Science Educators), the American Library Association, Children’s Literature Association and others. In addition, she was a term trustee for the Carnegie Library, on the board of directors of the Electronic Information Network and on the steering committee for the Children’s Literacy Network. She served on boards for local low-income housing and arts councils as well as the UPMC Health Care System (2002-05). She also was on the advisory board of Beginning with Books, a literacy program for the youngest children.

During the oral history interview, Kimmel recalled serving on two Newbery/Caldecott awards committees prior to the awards’ separation. “I often think to myself how much those two experiences have helped me as a teacher,” she said. “I want my students to be able to talk about books, to talk about illustrations the way that those people on the committees talked about them. It’s a new vocabulary; it’s a new way of looking at things.”

She is survived by a sister, Cathy Kimmel, and a brother, Mike Kimmel. Donations in her honor can be made to Canterbury Place or Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s children’s books department.

—Marty Levine