In memoriam: Judith Holliday

February 14, 2008

Fine Arts Librarian Judith E. Holliday, who was associated with Cornell University College of Architecture, Art, and Planning library for nearly 40 years, died February 8, following a long battle with cancer. She was 69. Holliday joined the Cornell library staff in the late 1960s, after completing a bachelor’s degree from the College of Wooster in Ohio and a master’s degree in library science from Columbia University. An expert on books about Italian art and architecture, she was a lover of most things Italian — opera, food, and wine included — and spoke the language fluently. She retired from her librarianship in 1996. “Judith was a dear friend and valued colleague of faculty and staff in our college for many years, and a generous and dedicated mentor to generations of students,” said Stan Taft, interim AAP dean, in a message to faculty, staff, students, and friends of the college. “She and I had a zillion conversations about architecture, and she taught me how to say Italian words better, if not always correctly,” recalled Sherman Clarke, AAP alumnus. Clarke, who joined the AAP library staff in the 1980s and is now with New York University Libraries, said: “Judith’s fine example as librarian played a part in my evolution from art history grad student to library school student.” Holliday also was outspoken, and sometimes influential, in her views. At a professional society meeting of art and architecture librarians in the late 1970s, Clarke remembered: “Judith stood up and asked a representative from [art book publisher Harry N.] Abrams why the firm didn’t put dates in their books.” His response, to make the books appear new on bookstore shelves, didn’t past muster with her. “As far as I know, Abrams has put the date in all their books since then,” reported Clarke. A “consummate” architecture bibliographer, Holliday compiled the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians (JSAH) booklist for many years, Clarke noted. AAP Professor Michael Tomlan, director of the college’s graduate program in historic preservation, added: “Judith’s long service to the JSAH is to be remembered, to say nothing of her warm companionship, keen eye, and ready wit.” Jeffrey Weidman, senior librarian at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art’s reference library, who worked under Holliday at Cornell from 1969–71 and also was inspired to pursue a career as an art librarian under her influence, said: “She was a wonderful boss. I fondly remember her sense of humor — she named her Volkswagen after a character in one Wagner’s operas — and her joie de vivre as well as her sense of social responsibility and caring for others. And Victoria Romanoff, MFA ’64, an artist, restoration and design consultant in Ithaca, and longtime friend of Holliday’s, who restored more than one of her residences, said: “We built her a beautiful library and music room with endless bookcases for her collection of musical theater and opera records and cassettes. And she and I argued for more than 30 years over how many roles [Elisabeth] Schwarzkopf played in ‘Der Rosenkavalier.’” After her retirement, Holliday volunteered as a hostess at Trattoria Tre Stelle, an Italian restaurant in downtown Ithaca that Romanoff and her partner, Sarah Adams, owned. In addition, Holliday was a crossword puzzle buff who could whip through the Sunday New York Times puzzle in record time as well as an animal lover who adopted the cat of Fine Arts Dean and Professor J. O. Mahoney after his death, Romanoff reported. It was Romanoff’s habit of chronically returning books late to the library, “which Judith took to be a sign of interest in the books,” that first introduced her to Holliday. “She will be missed by many,” Romanoff said. “We all need a librarian in our lives, to bring us down to earth.”

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