K&IM Walford Award: Who Was Dr Walford?

Ray Lester

The Walford Award has been made for nearly thirty years.  Over that time, the criteria have been amended but the award has always been called the Walford Award.    So who was Walford?  At the 2018 Awards Ceremony Dr Ray Lester, who knew and worked with Dr Walford, gave the following talk.

When some fifteen years ago I agreed to become the chief Editor of what became ‘The New Walford’,I had three major concerns: first, whether such a print reference work would still be worth producing in ‘The Digital Age’; second, whether it would be possible to find enough library and information professionals who would be prepared to edit its individual subject sections; but, third, that the Volume I might produce would pay due and proper recognition to the originator of the ‘Guide to Reference Material’on which my Volume would be at least in principle be based. So I suggested as its title ‘The New Walford’ a la ‘The New Grove’ and similar.

Albert John Walford, who died in 2000 at the age of 93, was truly a remarkable librarian and person. He left school and worked as a public librarian for about 20 years from 1924, during that time obtaining part time a librarianship qualification from University College London, a BA in History from Birkbeck, and an MA and a Doctorate in Latin American Studies, also from UCL. During the War, he served with the Army in North Africa and Italy, where he was in charge of the Forces Command Libraries. He then worked after the War at the Ministry of Defence, from 1946 to 1973, following that with work at the Commercial Assurance Company in the City, until he finally retired in 1978. He lectured part time at the North Western Polytechnic, which of course later became PNL and then part of London Metropolitan University. He edited the Library Association Recordduring the 1950s.

But in the context here, it is his work for and alongside the Library Association Reference, Special and Information Section, founded in 1951, which is especially notable. He began work on what became the ‘Guide to Reference Material’in 1955, producing its first edition in 1959. For that first edition there were some 70 to 80 contributors. The last Edition of the Guide for which he had an overall view was the fifth edition of the Science and Technology volume (by that time the original single volume Guide had expanded to three Volumes), which appeared 30 years later, in 1989 (when I calculate he would have been aged about 82!). Because of its outstanding quality, “Walford” became the reference work guide of choice worldwide, easily surpassing in quality its US, French and German rivals. Indeed, it has been said that Dr John Walford for several decades was the most well-known British Librarian throughout the world! But John did not just oversee the Guide itself: there were several spin-offs, so much so that for a time, it was only the sales of John’s books that kept Library Association Publishing (the precursor of Facet Publishing) solvent!

And on top of all this work from a quiet unassuming man, was Dr Walford’s invaluable contributions to the judging for the McColvin and Besterman Medals. Such contributions in 1991 indirectly led to the foundation of the Walford Medal: instituted ‘to recognise continued and sustained work in the field of bibliography’.


K&IM Refer 35(1), Winter 2019


















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