Eugene P. Sheehy

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Eugene P. Sheehy (October 10, 1922 - February 26, 2013) was an American academic librarian, professional researcher, author and editor.[1] As a librarian he served as the head of the reference department at Columbia University in New York City from 1967 to 1986. He is best remembered as the editor-in-chief for the Guide to Reference, an exhaustive meta-reference book published by the American Library Association that reviewed periodicals and journals of all disciplines. Sheehy's version of GRB was widely used in the 1970s and 1980s as an educational tool for library students, as a tool for reference librarians to assist them with difficult searches and as a tool for purchasers for libraries to assist them in choosing which materials to obtain for their library. Although Sheehy was not the first editor of GRB, his name became so synonymous with the book that it was often simply referred to as "The Sheehy".

Early life[edit]

Born in Elbow Lake, Minnesota, Sheehy was the son of a farmer. He served in the United States Marine Corps from 1942 to 1946, where he became a sergeant.

After finishing his military service Sheehy earned a B.A. from Saint John's University in Collegeville, MN in 1950; an M.A. from the University of Minnesota in 1951; and a B.S. in Library Science from the University of Minnesota in 1952.

Sheehy then started his career as a librarian. In 1952 Sheehy became an academic librarian at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. After one year, he left there to take a similar position at Columbia University. It was there under the tutelage of Constance Mabel Winchell that he began writing and editing reviews and indexes for reference materials. In 1967 Winchell retired and Sheehy took over as head of the reference department as well as head editor for the Guide to Reference Books.

The influence of Sheehy and the Guide to Reference Books[edit]

In a time before nearly every library in the United States possessed access to the Internet and electronic databases, meta-reference books like GRB were a vitally important tool for the reference librarian. When you didn't know where to look GRB gave you not just a starting point but a system of indexes listing materials on the subject you needed, mini-reviews describing the content, and some contextual suggestions to help you decide what specific materials were really required. Organized into categories designed for easy navigation, Sheehy's GRB was designed for use in the heat of the moment at a busy reference desk. But its use wasn't limited to assisting patrons with those difficult questions. GRB was also used in "training reference staff in the repertory of works with which they should be familiar, inventorying and developing reference collections…and serving as a gateway to the wider repertory of the reference literature" (Kieft, 331). That one person specially selects the titles listed in GRB lent a great sense of authority to Sheehy. Librarians placed significant confidence in Sheehy as editor of the guide, making him an influential tastemaker within the library industry. If a reference source was indexed in GRB, it was trusted.

The dramatic influence of Sheehy and his two editions of GRB were partly due to timing. In the 1970s with "more than 70 accredited library schools…in the United States and Canada" library education was at its zenith as far as sheer numbers studying and entering the profession (Rubin, 453). GRB, and Sheehy, were in the midst of that environment, providing an essential tool used coast to coast for more than a decade. It's no overstatement to say Sheehy influenced nearly every librarian educated in the 1970s and 1980s, whether they know it or not.


  • Cheatham, Bertha M. "Reviews the Book 'Guide to Reference Books' edited by Eugene P. Sheehy." School Library Journal. 33.7. (March, 1987): 88.
  • Galvin, Tom. "Review of The Guide to Reference Books by Eugene P. Sheehy." Library Journal. (September 15, 1968): 89.
  • Harris, Robert R. "Guide to Reference Books (Book Review)." Library Journal. 101.22. (December 15, 1976): 2560.
  • Plotnik, Art. "From Winchell's 8th to Sheehy's 9th." American Libraries. 8.3. (March, 1977): 129-133.
  • Kieft, Robert. "When Reference Works Are Not Books: The New Edition of the Guide to Reference Books." Reference and User Services Quarterly. 41.4. (July, 2002): 330-335.
  • Rubin, Richard E. Foundations of Library and Information Science. 2nd ed. New York City: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc, 2004.
  • Sheehy, Eugene P. "Preface." Guide to Reference Books. 10th ed. Ed. Eugene P. Sheehy. Chicago: American Library Association, 1986. ix-xi.
  • Washburn, Anne. "Guide to Reference Books (Book Review)." Library Journal. 105.13. (July 1, 1980): 1502.


  1. ^ "EUGENE SHEEHY's Obituary by New York Times". Retrieved 2013-11-18.