Robert O. Dougan; Huntington Librarian
Robert Ormes Dougan, a Book of Kells scholar, bibliophile and librarian who greatly increased the Huntington Library’s vast collection of rare books and manuscripts, has died at the age of 94.
Dougan, the Huntington’s librarian for 14 years, died May 8 at Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara. He had been a longtime resident of the Samarkand, a retirement home in Santa Barbara.
Decades before he was hired for the San Marino library, Dougan had an association with its creator, Henry E. Huntington.
After earning his bachelor’s degree in librarianship from University College in London and his master’s from Trinity College at the University of Dublin, Dougan went to work as a bibliographical researcher for T.P. Goldschmidt, a London antiquarian bookseller. One of the shop’s best customers was the American railroad magnate Huntington.
“I can take you to books on the shelves of the Huntington Library right now with my identification marks in them, marks that I made way back in the 1920s,” Dougan told The Times when he retired in 1972.
The librarian also remembered Huntington’s purchase of Britain’s famous Gainsborough painting “Blue Boy” for his San Marino art gallery in 1921. As a teenager, Dougan was among the many Britons who went to say goodbye to the treasure during its final display in the National Gallery in London. “I certainly didn’t think at the time,” he said years later, “that I was going to come and live with it.”
Born in Ilford, England, Dougan served with the Royal Air Force in Perth, Scotland, during World War II. He stayed on after the war as the city’s librarian from 1945 to 1952 and assembled two collections of rare 18th and 20th century Scottish literature for the 1951 Festival of Britain.
Dougan next moved to Dublin to become the first professional librarian for centuries-old Trinity College. There he studied the ancient 8th century Book of Kells and supervised its rebinding. He described the tome as “perhaps the most magnificently illuminated and illustrated book in the world.”
Hired by the Huntington in 1958, Dougan spent 14 years at the library’s helm, increasing its rare book collection from 215,000 titles to 295,000 and its reference collection from 147,000 books to 196,000.
Dougan, who became an American citizen in 1964, considered the Huntington “one of the greatest research libraries in the world for British and American history.”
He credited that quality to the library’s staff, telling The Times in 1972: “There is a bond of unity here which I have not experienced anywhere else. It’s as if everyone regards themselves as part of the Huntington family and are working to perpetuate what he [the founder] began.”
Dougan’s avocation was collecting some of the earliest photographs, made shortly after the medium was invented in 1839. He amassed about 1,000 prints and negatives made by D.O. Hill from 1840 to 1848, now at the University of Glasgow. The librarian’s larger and more comprehensive historical photography collection has been acquired by the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, which shares it with the city’s Museum of Modern Art and Princeton University.
Widowed by Olive McMicken and Margaret Truax Hunter, Dougan is survived by his third wife, Terry Purcell.
A memorial service is planned in the chapel of the Samarkand retirement complex in Santa Barbara at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.