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February 19, 2015

Obituary: Ruth Carter

Ruth C. Carter, former University Library System (ULS) librarian and archivist who retired in 1999 as head of the ULS Archives Service Center (ASC) and curator of historical collections, died Jan. 14, 2015, of cancer. She was 77.

Carter’s career merged interests in computers and libraries with her love of history. She joined ULS as a temporary systems analyst in 1972. That job led to a series of positions over the course of her 27-year career at Pitt.

She successively was a systems librarian, head of the serials department, head of the catalog department, technical services coordinator, then assistant director for automation and technical services before being named ASC head and curator of historical collections in 1996.

A native of Cincinnati, Ohio, Carter earned a bachelor’s degree in education at the University of Cincinnati in 1959 and taught history and geography before returning to her alma mater for graduate studies.

After earning a master’s degree in history in 1961, she became curator of manuscripts and reference assistant at the Cincinnati Historical Society. She later studied computer systems analysis and worked in the U.S. Army Office of the Chief of Staff as a systems analyst.

She earned a master’s degree in library science at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, taking her first professional library position as head of technical services and automation at Parkland College in Champaign.

She came to Pittsburgh in 1972 when her husband, John, took a position at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

While employed here, Carter undertook doctoral work, earning a PhD in history at Pitt in 1993.

She wrote extensively in professional journals and edited numerous publications in her field. Notably, she edited the journal Cataloging and Classification Quarterly for 20 years, retiring as editor emeritus in 2006.

She was active in professional organizations, serving as chair-elect, chair and past chair of the serials section of the American Library Association (ALA) resources and technical services division, 1984-87, the predecessor of the ALA’s Association for Library Collections and Technical Services (ALCTS). Carter served as ALCTS president in 1991.

In 1986 the ALA presented her the Bowker-Ulrich’s Serials Librarianship Award for distinguished contributions through research, publication, management and educational activities related to serials.

From 1991-99 Carter was the ALA representative to the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions’ standing committee on serial publications.

Assistant University Librarian Paul Kohberger said he was among the first people Carter hired when she took over technical services in the 1970s. She brought early technical upgrades to the library system, and made changes to workflows across technical services as libraries became less paper-based.

She was interested in cooperative cataloging projects, advocating for librarians to be cognizant of regional and national needs, he said. “Anytime cooperative work came along, Ruth was very interested in training us to be a part of that.”

She encouraged service beyond the University. “Ruth was good at making me look outside the organization and into the profession of librarianship. She did that with a lot of young librarians,” he said. “She instilled in us a sense of responsibilities beyond the walls of the University.”

And she practiced what she preached, Kohberger said. “You have to be a participant, not just an attendee,” Carter would insist. “You didn’t just join an organization, you participated in the organization.”

Carter was intellectually curious and willing to learn from others. Her wide variety of interests as a historian gave her a really good perspective, Kohberger said. Always interested in the academic side of librarianship, “She could relate to faculty and to doctoral and PhD students,” he said.

Carter bridged the divide between classified staff and faculty librarians. “She would promote good staff to positions of authority and help them succeed,” he said. Her caring led to low turnover. Because they felt valued,  “she got a lot of loyalty from the staff,” he said.

Technical services staff member Liz Radis remembered Carter as “an intelligent, strong, very caring woman — tough as a boss, but also fair, and you always learned something from the experience.”

Radis said Carter “became a second mom to me,” helping her through the death of her parents and through divorce. “As a friend, she was a very caring, loving woman and would do anything to help you, and I mean anything.”

David Rosenberg, who was the United Electrical Workers Archivist and Curator of Labor Collections when Carter became head of ASC, remembered Carter as practical and professional, “an energetic dynamo.”

He added: “A down-to-earth person, Ruth could talk football and politics and you could almost imagine her smoking cigars and dealing in political campaigns,” he said.

Carter took interest in people, encouraging them professionally and in practical ways, Rosenberg said. She was “an energetic head with a positive outlook and an interest in seeing you fulfill your potential, not just meet standard expectations. She gave me and others permission to move ahead.”

Carter encouraged him to seek out new archival collections for labor history, leading to the development of the Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania Labor Legacy site (, still in use today.

She supported the Archives’ outreach to the African American Jazz Preservation Society of Pittsburgh, whose oral histories are archived at the ASC, and contributed over the years to the Ida Mary Lewis Memorial Education Fund. Named for a former ULS colleague, the fund supports an annual lecture and programming at Carnegie Library’s Hill District branch, Rosenberg said.

Radis kept in touch after Carter and her husband retired to South Carolina. “She fought a very long and painful battle against her cancer. There were days when I’d call to check on her and she would be the feisty Ruth I knew, and by the next week, you could hear the pain in her voice, but she was always the fighter, to the very end,” Radis said.

Carter is survived by her husband, John.

—Kimberly K. Barlow