Tribute to Dr Robert N Smart (1931-2019)

Friday 26 July 2019

The Special Collections Division of the University Library is very sad to note the death of Dr Robert N Smart on 21 July 2019, aged 87.

Dr Robert N Smart, after the award of his honorary degree at the half-yearly meeting of General Council on 27 January 1996 PGA-E941-001

Born in Abernethy, Bob attended St Andrews from 1949-53, graduating with an MA in Modern and Medieval History, after which he gained a diploma in palaeography and archive administration from University College, North Wales.

Apart from his first job, as Assistant Librarian at the University of Aberdeen for four years, Bob’s professional career was spent at St Andrews.

He was the first professionally trained archivist to be appointed by the University when he took up his post as Cataloguer of Manuscripts and Assistant Archivist in 1959. From 1961 he was Senior Assistant Librarian and Sub-Librarian (Manuscripts and Archives), later becoming Keeper of Manuscripts. He succeeded Dr Ronald Cant as Keeper of the University Muniments in 1974 and retired as Keeper of Manuscripts and Muniments in 1995.

Library staff photo of Bob, undated but probably about 1985 PGA-P189-001

The University awarded him an honorary Doctor of Laws degree in January1996 “as an excellent scholar, as a thoroughly professional collector and keeper and as a learned and generous public face of the University” and as a “universally admired and well-loved servant of the University”, a sentiment still echoed by those who knew and worked with him.

Bob wrote the reference number of this very early charter on the face of the document, a practice that we would not follow nowadays! ms30276

Bob was integral to the development of the Special Collections Division that is such a key part of the University Library today. He built up the manuscript collections and forged links with local families, institutions and businesses, establishing the Library as a place of deposit for church and burgh records relating to North-East Fife before there was a local authority archive service in the county. He received, arranged and catalogued archival materials and his distinctive handwriting can be seen in reference numbers written onto originals throughout the collections – he has literally left his mark on the archive’s documents, envelopes, files and bundles.

He compiled exhaustive index entries and inventories which have been invaluable tools for his successors in office as well as today’s researchers.

Index files
Many pages of index slips in Bob’s hand which remain invaluable access points to the University muniment collection

He was the creator of the photographic collection, responsible for arranging the deposit of the Valentine Collection (without his intervention it would have been broken up and dispersed) and that initiative led to the acquiring of other significant collections, which eventually has led to the assembling of the major photographic archive for which St Andrews is now internationally known.

Bob displaying the Valentine Collection which he rescued and secured for the University to a group including Principal J Steven Watson (with the pipe!), 1971 Alb-41-2

He was a scholar archivist, using his subject knowledge and professional expertise to guide generations of research students to relevant holdings in the manuscripts, archives and photographic collections. He taught palaeography classes to both undergraduate and postgraduate students and gave innumerable lectures and exhibitions, as well as authoring over thirty publications. His knowledge of the history of the University was unsurpassed in his later years and he continued working on his Biographical Register project in retirement.

Bob with his wife Veronica, Neil Dumbleton (Librarian) and Professor Geoffrey Rickman (Master) at Bob’s retirement ceremony on 18 September 1995 PGA-E868-001

Bob’s lasting memorial will be his three volume Biographical Register of the University of St Andrews, in which he tackled the gargantuan task of the collation of information on all former staff and students of this University. The first volume, and latest chronologically, was published in 2004 (1747-1897) and the second in 2012 (1579-1746). He was lately in the final stages of work on the final volume covering 1413-1578. Bob worked closely with Dr Alice Crawford in the University Library to convert the 1747-1897 register into database format and it is now available online. The data is being reinterpreted by research students in Computer Science working on visualisation of information, devising innovative ways of engaging with the raw data that Bob lovingly gathered over 60 years.

Bob was a founding trustee of the Strathmartine Centre and retained his active expert interest in local history throughout his retirement. Bob was unfailingly generous in sharing his knowledge with the community and his successors in office, and he will be much missed by friends and former colleagues.

A service of thanksgiving for Bob’s life will be held at Strathkinness Parish Church at 2pm on Thursday 1 August. The family have requested that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Church for St Andrews Community Hospital, Ward 2 Endowment Fund.

 Rachel Hart
Senior Archivist (Keeper of Manuscripts and Muniments)

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