‘Brian was a fearless and tireless champion of intellectual freedom and equality of access to information’

Brian Campbell, who pushed and prodded libraries to do more and do it better, who fought for the underdog, who was not afraid to tell the truth, who held authority to account, and who was a mentor to many, died on Dec. 27, 2016. His impact will live on.

Brian Campbell. Photo provided by Jacqueline van Dyk.

Brian Campbell. Photo provided by Jacqueline van Dyk.

Brian had a distinguished library career lasting more than 30 years. For many of those years he was Director of Systems and Planning for the Vancouver Public Library, and was a leader in implementing library systems and public computing, in working with vendors and developing and implementing software in public libraries.

Brian was a fearless and tireless champion of intellectual freedom and equality of access to information. On this front, he demonstrated genuine leadership in a wide range of activities, projects, and committees, and in teaching and mentoring others—all with the aim of ensuring that these basic values for libraries and librarianship endure and strengthen.

Brian also devoted much of his career to ensuring that marginalized people had access to libraries and information. He was concerned that access to information would increasingly demand access to technology, and so he was the primary builder of the Vancouver Community Network (formerly called the Vancouver Regional FreeNet). He initiated the British Columbia Library Association’s Information Policy Committee because of his concern that technology would erode the public’s right to information. And he initiated the national Working Together Project, which helped connect vulnerable people with library services.

In the 1990s, thanks largely to Brian’s vision and efforts, the BCLA lobbied libraries and government to introduce free public access internet stations and training into public libraries. BC was the first jurisdiction to provide free access to the internet in all public libraries. No single effort resulted in such a broad increase in access to information for the general public.

Brian was no stranger to public policy debates. He bravely took on challenges like the proposed amendments to the Criminal Code and the Customs Tariff regarding pornography. He helped shape BC’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, fought the campaign against the Multilateral Agreement on Investment and the World Trade Organization’s General Agreement on Trade in Services, and co-founded the Seriously Free Speech Committee—a group dedicated to the belief that “free speech is fundamental to other democratic rights and that political criticism is the bedrock of free speech.”

Brian was a force of nature, driven by passion, vision, and intellect, fuelled by a vision for a better world, and guided by his values. He was instrumental in affecting change across a broad range of public policy issues. A principled leader, he was the “conscience of librarianship” in BC and other parts of Canada.

Brian’s commitment, accomplishments, and legacy are unmatched. He was a truly deserving recipient of many awards, including the Canadian Library Association’s (CLA) Award for the Advancement of Intellectual Freedom in Canada, the CLA Outstanding Service to Librarianship Award, and the BCLA Helen Gordon Stewart Award for exceptional contributions to library service in BC.

Our thoughts are with Brian’s wife, Gillian, also a librarian, and the rest of the Campbell family.

Brian Campbell will be missed.

Jacqueline van Dyk is Director of Library Services at North Vancouver District Public Library.