Keighley’s Ian Dewhirst …
A Pennine legend in his own lifetime – man on a train.
For a scholar who never wanted to become a teacher, Ian Dewhirst MBE has proved to be one of the most memorable on the subject of local history. Informative, enthusiastic and entertaining, his talks are renowned and what’s more his scholarship and wit stay in the memory with a lingering delight – and so we are taught.
However, Ian Dewhirst, native of Keighley and pupil of Keighley Boys’ Grammar School, did not know what he wanted to become when he eventually graduated from the University of Manchester in 1958, with Honours in English. He was instead, directed towards librarianship by the National Service he undertook shortly following his graduation. Having already worked part-time for a mere 6 weeks in Keighley Public Library, the Army decided to make him a sergeant-instructor in the Royal Army Educational Corps and put him in charge of an army library at Deepcut on the Surrey/Hampshire border. He was Garrison Librarian no less, serving military personnel and families as well as civilians. Ian must have enjoyed the work, because he joined the library service in Keighley when he left the Army in 1960.
… and you see, here is where the other part of the legend begins, for Bradford Library Services’ staff and Yorkshire customers alike, that of Ian Dewhirst, the helpful, enthusiastic and enviably knowledgeable Reference Librarian who, in 2016, still bestrides Keighley Librarianship like a colossus. I can’t count the number of times I have been eagerly asked if Ian Dewhirst, the Librarian, is available and uncomfortably witnessed the looks of disappointment when I told them he was not and, I have to admit, that when new to both Keighley town and library, I did weary of yet another common comment, “Ian Dewhirst would have known…”, when I didn’t know, followed by that look of bewildered frustration when I also commented that Ian had long been retired. This was then followed by drooping shoulders, heavy sighs and knowing nods, from myself included. Where was this giant, this legend? I soon met the man and many times since have made a beeline for him myself to ask for advice, pointers or just plain “Help!” Always he has been patient, generous spirited, knowledgeable and yes, encouraging. If the Beatles had known of this guru, they would have written a different album, and maybe sported some book based fashions as well.
Ian puts his local history knowledge down to his ultimate employment as Reference Librarian in Keighley Library which had a growing local history collection, but also the fact that it dovetailed with his own love and enthusiasm for that subject. The one benefited the other. In the last 50 years, he has also made between 80-200 appearances a year all over the country, speaking about Keighley and Yorkshire history and literature, always with learned references to the wider national historical context and his wit and humour have even outclassed the likes of Jeremy Beadle when at the height of national popularity. Locally, he is affectionately known as Mr Keighley and has even seen his name on the side of a Northern Rail 158 diesel travelling the Airedale line and throughout the North for 4 years. Ian has written books, journal and newspaper articles and continues to write for the Keighley News with his informative Down Memory Lane slot and regularly appears on radio. For some time, he also appeared on ITV’s The Dales Diary, covering topics from Yorkshire history.
Ian has seen many changes in the library service over the years. He says that he worked during a “Golden Age” of librarianship when education was more essentially and enthusiastically library centred and book stock based and he has witnessed important developments brought about by the publication of controversial works such as Lady Chatterley, but the biggest change that still shocks him is that of the Internet and the proliferation of those machines in libraries. He still counts himself fortunate in that during his career, he was able to continue working, as he puts it, as basically, “…an Edwardian Reference Librarian“, but, probably because Ian continues not to be on Facebook and because we can’t get him by email, we continue to benefit from the comforting and inspiring presence in the flesh of this Keighley Library champion and for now, hurray for that! Happy 80th year, Ian, and long may you continue to be a shining light on the actual pages of local history, Keighley’s in particular.
Gina Birdsall, Keighley Library
Ian Dewhirst in 1967