Genial librarian who transformed holdings at NCAD

Edward Murphy: March 27th, 1948 - May 17th, 2014

Eddie Murphy (left), with Ciaran Benson. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

Eddie Murphy (left), with Ciaran Benson. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

Sat, Jun 21, 2014, 11:38

Edward Murphy, who has died aged 66, was librarian at the National College of Art and Design (NCAD) until he retired last year. During his 35-year tenure he transformed the library, essentially developing it from scratch.

An open, irreverent person with a mellifluous voice and a mischievous sense of humour, he was distinctly unofficious and easygoing, and his personality coloured the library he created. In recognition of this, it is now called the Edward Murphy Library.

Edward, universally known as Eddie, was born in Dublin to Edward and Kathleen (née Ryan) Murphy. The family lived in Terenure. He attended Gonzaga College and then UCD. His father was a neurologist and he too initially studied medicine although he soon realised that it wasn’t for him. After a European tour in the late 1960s which seemed to take in “every museum in France, Belgium and the Netherlands”, he returned to Dublin, dropped his medical studies and switched to art history.

After graduating, he spent two years in Italy, then won a studentship at the National Gallery of Ireland and studied librarianship at UCD.

The lack of a proper library in the National College of Art and Design was keenly felt and, from 1972, actively addressed by the board. After a series of stopgap arrangements Murphy was eventually appointed librarian in 1978. When he took up his post the stock numbered about 600 books. Now there are something in the region of 100,000, but Murphy’s achievement was much more profound than their acquisition. Thomas Street He mapped out the library’s future development, which really began with the 1981 move to immeasurably better, bigger quarters on Thomas Street. There, under his direction, it became a valuable, living resource attuned to the evolving needs of both staff and students, making available hundreds of journals and periodicals, along with moving image material in the Visual Resources Centre.

At Murphy’s urging, in 1997 NCAD, together with the Arts Council, established the National Irish Visual Arts Library (NIVAL) a resource archive of material relating to 20th century and contemporary Irish art.

It is a public facility, open to anyone involved in researching any aspect of Irish art. It sprang from Murphy’s recognition that a great deal of material, much of it ephemeral, had no appropriate home and was disappearing. There was no shortage of such documentation, from flimsy exhibition price lists and catalogues to newspaper reviews and personal archives, but no institution was systematically preserving it.

Once the organisation was in place and the doors were open, material poured in, apart altogether from that directly acquired. Dorothy Walker’s personal archive resides there, as will Patrick Scott’s. Robert Ballagh has pledged his papers, and so has art historian Brian Kennedy. The RHA awarded Murphy a gold medal for his work on both NIVAL and the NCAD library in 2013. Although he retired as librarian that year, he continued to work for NIVAL out of a sense of personal commitment.

He is survived by his mother, Kathleen, and his sister, Ruth. He was predeceased by his wife, Patricia Casey, who died earlier this year, and by his brother Denis.