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Obituary: Clare Beghtol (1942 – 2018)

Submitted on Thursday, March 08, 2018

When Clare Beghtol transitioned from Professor at the Faculty of Information to Professor Emeritus in 2009, the journal Knowledge Organization put out a special issue — or festschrift, as academics call it — in her honour. Beghtol was a scholar of classification theory and one of the top theorists worldwide.

“It can be said that she is the leading classification theorist in North America,” wrote her colleague Nancy Williamson, who was also a Professor Emeritus at the time. “She has taught classification for many years, imparting her knowledge of classification theory to her students while encouraging their critical thinking and intellectual curiosity.”

Beghtol’s path to professorship at the University of Toronto was a long and winding one. Born in Lincoln, Nebraska,  she completed an undergraduate degree in English at the University of Chicago before going on to graduate studies in American Civilization at Brown.

In 1967, she moved to Montreal where she taught at Sir George Williams
University (now Concordia), and began working in publishing. Not long after, she moved to Toronto where she took up a position as editor with Copp Clark, an educational publisher. She transitioned into freelance writing and editing before entering the Master of Library Science degree program at the University of Toronto in 1979.

In her spare time, Beghtol wrote poetry. The journal Atlantis published two of her poems including one entitled “On the significance of cats.” Its final lines read:

these wide slow cats’ eyes hold whole worlds now

as they did when the cats were gods.

After receiving her degree in library science, Beghtol was hired as the Chief Cataloguer/Indexer in the CBC’s Current Affairs unit. She worked with the team who set up The Journal, starring the famed broadcaster Barbara Frum. Beghtol stayed on part-time at the CBC when she embarked on her doctoral studies back at the University of Toronto. Between 1987 and 1992, she was Director of Research at Ketchum Canada Inc.

After defending her 1991 thesis — “The Classification of Fiction: The Development of a System Based on Theoretical Principles” — Beghtol was appointed to a tenure-track position at the Faculty of Information Studies, as it was then known. Between 2002 and 2004, she served as the Faculty’s Associate Dean and was promoted to the rank of Full Professor in 2007.

Writing the introduction to Beghtol’s scholarship for the Knowledge Organization festschrift, Lynne Howarth, who both studied and worked with her, noted how the papers about Beghtol “offere[ed] evidence of [her] ‘palpable influence’ on developments in the field, and give voice to her unwavering commitment to exploring new approaches to the organization of knowledge.”

After learning the sad news of her friend’s death, Howarth, a former Faculty of Information Dean, also recalled that Beghtol had a dry sense of humour. Current Dean Wendy Duff remembered co-teaching one of her very first classes with Beghtol, who, she said, “discussed the theories of classification with brilliance and clarity. She was the most amazing scholar and a deeply caring human being. One could not have had a better role model.”

Beghtol is survived by her daughter and her sister. She was predeceased by her husband.


Clare Beghtol died peacefully at home on March 3, 2018.

Visitation hours will be Friday, March 9, 2018, 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Mount Pleasant Funeral Center. The funeral service will be held Saturday,
March 10, 2018, at 10 a.m. at the Mount Pleasant Funeral Center (10 a.m. visitation, 11 a.m. service). Flowers are welcome.

In lieu of flowers, donations would also be welcome to Canadian National Institute of the Blind, C. Donald Cook Center, Faculty of Information University of Toronto, Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, or the Salvation Army.

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