Shaw established the Graduate School of Library Studies at the University of Hawaii. He served on numerous ALA committees. He was associated with the discovery and pioneering of information science. He was involved with work on the Photoclerk. He worked with international organizations – consulting and advising on bibliographic activities. In 1950, Shaw founded Scarecrow Press. He came up with mini-print. He helped develop a strong library program at Rutgers, served as the school’s second dean, and was instrumental in establishing its Ph.D. program. Shaw did not invent Rapid Selector but made himself famous promoting it. He translated a book on bibliography from German.
He was a controversial library figure. He was interested in scientific management, transaction charges, photography for circulation control, and bookmobiles; copyrights. He compiled Bibliography of Agriculture, which became an international bibliographic tool. He was “one of the first American Documentalists” (Burke). He wanted to use Bush’s Selector to coordinate all the agricultural research literature allowing researchers to have access to all the current research projects in the world. Shaw was chief of USDA library, made it a center of pioneering documentation techniques.
American Library Association: Dewey Award (1953- first ever awarded)
1907 – 1972
He found ample opportunity to further develop and put into practice his ideas when he became the librarian of the Gary, Indiana Public Library in 1936. While in Gary, Shaw began work on his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago’s Graduate Library School. In 1940, Shaw moved on to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s library.
While at the library (which eventually became the National Agriculture Library), Shaw continued to pursue his interest in the use of machines to improve the productivity and efficiency of library operations. During his fourteen-year tenure at the library, he invented and patented the Photoclerk and designed the Rapid Selector (and patented its coding system), a machine designed to use encoded microfilm for subject analysis and retrieval of information. Although mechanical problems thwarted Shaw’s dreams of success for the machine, work along the same lines was later done byEastman Kodak and IBM .
During his career, Shaw became an internationally respected figure in librarianship. He was a member of, as well as a consultant and advisor to, a wide range of national and international library committees and organizations concerned with library and bibliographic activities. During the 1950’s, Shaw was actively involved in the American Documentation Institute . He was an associate editor of American Documentation from 1950-1957.
Shaw was also keenly interested in library education. In 1954, he joined the faculty of the Graduate School of Library Service at Rutgers University, where he helped to develop a respected program that included courses in bibliography, documentation and scientific management, a concept he helped introduce to the profession as a means of solving certain library problems.
Ralph Shaw left a significant mark in the fields of information science and librarianship. “As a bibliographer, he supervised the production of one of the major scientific and one of the major retrospective national bibliographies.” The influence of his work and ideas will carry on for years in his former students, many of whom are today’s leaders. The press he founded in 1950, Scarecrow Press, continues to produce high quality works in librarianship and other fields. His efforts as an inventor “helped to make possible much of the sophisticated use of technology in libraries.” A critic of grandiose claims for the capabilities of machines, Shaw’s challenges helped create a realistic basis for the intelligent use of machines. Ralph Shaw died in 1972. There is detailed biographical information about him in Wikipedia.
Some of Shaw’s major works include:
The Use of Photography for Clerical Routines(1953)
Articles on automation:
“From Fright to Frankenstein.” D.C. Libraries (1953).
“The Form and the Substance.” (1965).
“Electronic Storage and Searching.” in the series “Freeing the Mind.” Times Literary Supplement(1962).
A book celebrating the life and work of Shaw is: Essays for Ralph Shaw, ed. by Norman D. Stevens. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1975, 212 pp.