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Lance Heidig, inspiring librarian and curator, dies at 64

Lance Heidig, an outreach and instruction librarian at the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections (RMC), whose passion for discovering and sharing knowledge inspired generations of Cornellians, died April 6 at his home in Ithaca. He was 64.

Heidig’s four decades at Cornell spanned several reference and teaching roles in Uris Library, Olin Library and at RMC; and he was admired by the university community as a welcoming, widely knowledgeable and energetic figure.

Lance Heidig leading a tour of the “150 Ways to Say Cornell” exhibit that he co-curated in 2014, as part of Cornell's Sesquicentennial celebrations.

“Lance was just constantly on the move,” said Anne Sauer, the Stephen E. and Evalyn Edwards Milman Director of RMC. “He had so much enthusiasm and joy in his work it was infectious for everybody.

“I can picture him in my mind standing in the RMC rotunda,” Sauer said, “with a pad of paper of his notes, his iPhone and a pencil, waiting for a group to arrive for a class or a tour, clearly just bursting with excitement, looking forward to talking to the group and sharing what he knew with visitors, whoever they were.”

A former student athlete and an avid hiker, Heidig tirelessly led walking tours of library spaces and exhibitions for alumni on Reunion weekends, for parents and prospective students during Cornell Days, and for new students during Orientation. He also contributed creative and informative content for RMC’s social media accounts and appeared in videos showcasing library gems for research and scholarship.

Heidig was also an expert curator of several physical and online library exhibitions that drew the attention of scholars and enthusiasts at Cornell and beyond – including an exhibition on the life and work of Mark Twain and several exhibitions exploring Abraham Lincoln’s pivotal documents kept at RMC, such as manuscript copies of the 13th Amendment and the Gettysburg Address.

Library colleagues and patrons often marveled at Heidig’s passion for his work – and nowhere was his enthusiasm more evident than in his in-person and virtual instruction sessions.

“Every year for the past eight years, I had the pleasure of teaching a class with Lance,” said Trevor Pinch, professor of science and technology studies (STS) in the College of Arts and Sciences, “and I looked forward to that more than any other class.

“He was meticulous in preparation and always had some sort of ‘treasure’ from the Cornell archives to share. The students clearly loved him – we all did,” Pinch said.

Heidig majored in English at Oregon State University and earned his master’s in library science from Columbia University’s School of Library Service. He was passionate about literature and history and was adept at various subject areas and able to “enter deeply into a topic with thoughtfulness and respect,” according to Julia Gardner, assistant director for public services at RMC.

“These same qualities that made him such a positive colleague also informed his work as an instructor,” Gardner said.

Heidig was especially fond of highlighting archival collections with a strong connection to Cornell professors and alumni – from poet A. R. Ammons to historian and political scientist Benedict Anderson; from children’s book author E. B. White ’21 to musical inventor Robert Moog Ph.D. ’65.

“I also have fond memories of a class on the Roman provinces, in which we studied the ‘squeezes’ Cornell archaeologist Eugene Andrews had taken in the late 19th century from the Parthenon entablature,” said Annetta Alexandridis, associate professor of Greek and Roman art and archaeology in A&S. “We first looked at these weird objects and then went to the lecture room where Lance had rolled out the paper with the reconstructed inscription on a row of tables – a super mini-exhibit, so effective and quite theatrical!”

Cornell researchers and visiting scholars recognized a kindred spirit in Heidig, according to Jon Parmenter, associate professor of history (A&S).

“Lance was a researcher’s best friend,” he said, “not only because of his knowledge of the collections, his boundless enthusiasm, his eagerness to help, but also because of his capacity to share in the joys of scholarly discovery.”

Young scholars and students were also touched by Heidig’s welcoming and encouraging demeanor.

“Lance, with his enthusiasm and immense knowledge of the archives, made a space that otherwise can be intimidating feel quite the opposite: warm and welcoming,” said Victoria Sorensen, a doctoral student in performing and media arts.

“I had a few classes with Lance over my years at Cornell, and each one was so illuminating and increased my appreciation for this school and its collections by so much,” said classics student Max Buettner ’21. “It’s a really devastating loss… He really did touch the minds and hearts of so many students at Cornell.”

“Lance’s positive impact on Cornell extended over 37 years and far beyond the library system,” said Gerald R. Beasley, the Carl A. Kroch University Librarian. “He inspired faculty, alumni, retirees, students and many others with his passionate devotion to professional excellence.”

Heidig is survived by his partner and library colleague, Katherine Reagan, of Ithaca; and his mother, Susan Heidig, of Waverly, New York. While there will be no formal funeral services, the family plans a celebration of Heidig’s life this summer.

Heidig’s obituary can be found at legacy.com.

Jose Beduya is a staff writer, editor and social media coordinator for Cornell University Library.

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Abby Butler