Margaret H. Allan, 1936-1995

Margaret Hermione Allan, Rare Book Cataloger at the University of Pennsylvania's Van Pelt-Dietrich Library since 1969, died at her Philadelphia home from complications of breast cancer on December 1. She had continued to catalog rare books until two weeks before her death, when her illness demanded further radiation therapy, during the course of which she died. During her long struggle against a cancer which gave her no remissions, she maintained her mobility and her independence virtually to the end.

Margaret was born February 5, 1936, in Edinburgh, Scotland, where she attended secondary school and received an M.A. in Classics from the University of Edinburgh in 1957. After a year spent at the University of Pittsburgh, she worked as a Research Assistant in the National Library of Scotland until 1969. In this position, she supervised completion of the entries and indices of the National Library of Scotland's Short- Title Catalogue of Foreign Books Printed up to 1600 (Edinburgh: HMSO, 1970), and also prepared the volume for the press. Librarian William Beattie's prefatory note remarked: "The last word must go to Miss Margaret Allan, without whose industry, purpose and learning the catalogue could not have been published either so soon or so well."

Joining Penn in 1969, Margaret assisted in cataloging the Henry Charles Lea Library, working on that project with the late Professor Matthias Shaaber, as well as in cataloging material for the newly-formed Department of Special Collections. She served as Acting Head of the Original Cataloging Department for a year. During the 1980s, Margaret was active in the American Library Association's Rare Books and Manuscripts Section and contributed to a number of rare book thesauri. She also assisted her Penn colleagues in the Original Cataloging Department, who relied on her deep knowledge for reliable answers about the make-up of books and questions of imprint and date. Without her support, the Department would have been unable to catalog as much material as it did in special projects during the past several years.

As emphasis shifted, during her career, from cataloging rare books as artifacts to provision of intellectual access to rare books, Margaret kept abreast of changes. Even after her cancer was diagnosed, over thirty months ago, and while undergoing radiation therapy and neck fusion, she insisted on training in newly-implemented name authority control procedures and mastered their demands. When the Department shifted its workplace technology this fall, Margaret again insisted on being included. In the weeks before her death, she become quite proficient at cataloging with Windows in a new computerized environment.

Strong-minded and independent, Margaret took pride in both her native Scots and in her acquired American identities. One of the last trips she made was a vacation in which she drove by herself through the southeastern states. She was also deeply committed to and active in her church, the First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, where she was an Elder and served on its Board of Session, its vestry and its call committee. Margaret was also active in Alcoholics Anonymous and took courses in counseling.

She is survived by her mother, Margaret Shearsby Allan, and her sister, Jeannette MacKinlay, both of Edinburgh, and a large number of friends and colleagues. A memorial service will be held at First Presbyterian Church, 21st and Walnut, at noon on December 15. Margaret requested that any memorial contributions be sent to the Philadelphia Society for Services to Children, 415 South 15th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19146.

--Daniel Traister and Laurence Creider
Van Pelt-Dietrich Library


Tuesday, December 12, 1995
Volume 42 Number 15

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