John Pilkington’s teaching career at the University of Mississippi spanned more than three decades and influenced hundreds of students. Since his retirement in 1985, he has continued his early mission to help make the university library the best that it can be.
Pilkington, distinguished professor emeritus of English, has raised friends and funds through the Friends of the Library support group and spent many hours matching resources with books and other needs. His work has been priceless, said Dean Julia Rholes.
“Dr. Pilkington has patiently carried out his desire to help provide a better library for Ole Miss students and faculty,” she said. “Through his leadership and personal example working with Friends of the Library, the addition of so many books has remarkably enriched our collections.”
Rholes and several of Pilkington’s longtime admirers spearheaded efforts to honor him with the naming of a reading room in the J.D. Williams Library. A dedication ceremony for the John Pilkington Study Room is scheduled for Saturday (April 25). The designated area is on the second floor of the library near the main elevators. The public is invited to the ceremony and reception to follow.
When asked how he feels about being so honored, Pilkington said, “I’m delighted. It was a great surprise but a very pleasant one.”
He went on to explain why he feels so strongly about the quality of a university library.
“The university exists for the advancement of learning,” Pilkington said. “The university library is the most permanent part of the learning process, and the library is the central resource that makes teaching, research and service to the community possible.”
When Pilkington joined the UM faculty soon after completing his master’s and doctoral degrees at Harvard, he was alarmed at the state of the UM library.
“When I came here in 1952, I came directly from working at Widener Library at Harvard. It was a glorious place, because you were terribly surprised if you couldn’t find your book, and I got here and you were surprised if you did find your book.”
Pilkington wasted no time in seeking ways to remedy the situation. “I ran down second-hand catalogs to find books to fill out my list of books that I thought the library needed. The university had very little money. Funds to purchase books were allotted to departments, and some didn’t use the allotment, so I asked for and was given permission to use the funds to buy books, and that’s how it started.”
“As a faculty member, John Pilkington was loved by his students and admired by his colleagues,” Chancellor Robert Khayat said. “He has worked tirelessly to attract support that would assure the continued strength of our library. He and his wife, Lolly, are revered, respected and loved by the Ole Miss community.”
Pilkington was the senior professor in American literature in the Department of English from 1960 to 1985. He taught one of the first-ever university courses devoted just to Faulkner and was a moving force in establishing the annual Faulkner Conference at UM. He designed many new classes, directed many doctoral dissertations and master’s theses, and developed and taught correspondence courses, for which he won a major award from the National University Extension Association.
For more information about the J.D. Williams Library, go to https://www.olemiss.edu/depts/general_library/ .