The Library Mourns the Passing of Jim O’Donnell

James (Jim) Edward O’Donnell , July 22, 1952 – Feb. 20, 2012

Jim O’Donnell, 59, passed away peacefully at home in Altadena, CA surrounded by family and friends. Jim was a thoroughly modern librarian with gusto for all things bibliographic especially if a connection could be made to his love of cooking and his affinity for maps. Jim owned over 125 cookbooks and had maintained a blog since 2006  describing his favorite recipes. Typically, he also found pleasure in cataloging all his books on LibraryThing.


Jim was very active throughout his career in anything geosciences information related. He held a number of leadership positions in the Geoscience Information Society including secretary and webmaster and published in its proceedings. He was a past president and subscription manager for the Western Association of Map Libraries, a group that honored him with an Award of Excellence. He served on the Georef Advisory Council and the Geological Society of America Publications Committee. Jim’s legacy includes numerous library assistants and newly minted librarians that benefited from his training and mentoring over the years.


In 1986 Jim came to Caltech from Trinity University in San Antonio, TX, where he had been the science librarian, to take up the management of the Geology and Planetary Sciences library. His professionalism and knowledge had immediate impact causing then Library Director, Glenn Brudvig, to note “his impressive record in the improvement and development of the Geology collections and services in so short a time.” Over the years, Jim became the go-to librarian. He was tapped to run the Earthquake Engineering Library, luckily just before the Northridge earthquake of 1994, and with his knowledge of the U.S. Geological Survey and Bureau of Mines resources he was a natural to oversee the library’s government documents collections.


In 2004 he was promoted to Head of Collections, Information and Research Services overseeing the subject librarians and their liaison and education activities as well as the collection purchases of the Caltech Library. His compassionate and caring nature endures as characteristic of his manner in facilitating change and helping staff embrace the digital and electronic technologies affecting libraries so greatly. His good listening skills and genuine interest in others allowed him to touch many individuals who remember his bright blue-eyes and sense of humor and his willingness to share so easily of himself. His joyful role-playing as “Santa” at both Division and library holiday gatherings certainly embodied his presence both literally and spiritually.


Jim was a born and raised Californian attending UC Berkeley for his undergraduate degree in linguistics and then UCLA for his Masters in Library Science. It is there that the geosciences bug bit him when he served as acting Head of the Geology – Geophysics Library in 1981.


Jim is survived by his partner, Ben Perez, and four sisters, Joanne O’Donnell, Sheila O’Donnell Nicol, Mary O’Donnell and Anne O’Donnell. A memorial service will be held at All Saints Church, Pasadena, CA on March 31, 2012, at 11 AM. The family will announce preferences for donations or other remembrances in Jim’s honor at that time. Meanwhile notes of condolences may be sent to 3233 Alaca Dr., Altadena, CA 91001