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Death of former Librarian Jacques van Gent

Jacques J. M. van Gent (8 June 1932 - 26 March 2021) was director of Leiden University Library from 1983 to 1993. He was librarian in a time of transition and, as director, was able to benefit from the new library building on the Witte Singel. Van Gent was a very different kind of manager from his predecessor, J. R. de Groot, who ran the library with a firm hand. Van Gent was more inclined towards the consultation model and tried to involve staff in the major changes that put the Leiden Library at the forefront in the 1980s and 1990s: an online catalogue (from 1986), CD-ROMS and the first digital journals.

Van Gent originally studied anthropology and worked in such countries as New Guinea. He learned the library business through and through in Nijmegen, where he was appointed head of cataloguing at the library of the Catholic University (1969) and in Leeuwarden where he was director of the Provincial Library of Friesland for six years from 1978. When he was appointed librarian at Leiden University in 1983, a brand new building on the Witte Singel awaited him, but there were insufficient funds to manage the landslide of library-related issues that automation and digitisation brought with them. Nevertheless, Van Gent managed to steer Leiden Library steadily through the budget cuts and modernisations. He also had an eye for the library's history and was the driving force behind the Goed Gezien - Tien eeuwen wetenschap in handschrift en druk (Well Spotted - Ten centuries of science in manuscript and print) exhibition, organised to celebrate the University Library's 400th anniversary.

Jacques van Gent during a visit to the Asian Library

Van Gent retired as head of Leiden University Library (UBL) on 25 October 1993. He gave a farewell address entitled Nicolaas Beets - Over volledigheid, precisie, structuur, standaardisering en uitwisselbaarheid van bibliografische gegevens in de catalogus (On the completeness, precision, structure, standardisation and exchangeability of library data in the catalogue). He was presented with Miscellanea Gentiana: a collection of essays offered by Leiden University to J.J.M. van Gent at his farewell ceremony as librarian of Leiden University. There were many signs of appreciation from both within and outside the library: for the role he fulfilled for ten years as University Librarian and for his contributions, previously and elsewhere, to the joint study programmes for the profession of librarian (GO) and his commitment to the continuation of the professional journal Open.

After he retired, Van Gent started up the bibliophile publishing house of Kopwit, with which he built up an independent foundation. The publisher's name is a reference to the white margin at the top of a page of text, but also to Van Gent’s abundant white hair.

Van Gent was a Friend of the UBL for years and a welcome guest at exhibition openings. His interest in the activities of the University Library continued unabated, as for example when he was given a tour of the Asian Library, which opened in 2017, by University Librarian Kurt de Belder.

Van Gent was in poorer health in recent years and passed away on Friday 26 March 2021, aged 88, after a brief stay in a care home.

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