Saturday, May 26, 2018
News Roundup

'Eccentric genius' contributed to revolutionizing library cataloging

TAMPA — The first CD-ROMs started making their way into businesses in 1984. Based on laser disc technology, CD-ROMs could hold more than 400 times as much data as a floppy disc on a single CD.

In 1985, Brower Roberts (then known as Brower Murphy) published the first CD-ROM cataloging software for libraries. BiblioFile was hailed as an innovative software in 1990 at the Optical Publishing Association's Fifth Annual Conference on CD-ROM.

He was born Brower Murphy in Atlanta, the son of an electronics representative who sold to clients in the space industry. He was quiet in groups but could be passionately persuasive when he had an idea.

"We called him the eccentric genius," said Darst Murphy McNairy, his sister.

After winning the Georgia state science fair at 15, Mr. Roberts was sent to the exclusive Choate Rosemary Hall private school in Connecticut.

He went on to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, then served in the Army.

He worked in computers for Delta Airlines and the Xerox Corp. Along the way he married Annette Harwood, who had an aptitude for software development and systems analysis, and started a family. They founded the Library Corp. in 1974, headquartered in Inwood, W.Va.

Companies like Sony and Phillips had been developing CD technology since the late 1970s, but CD-ROM ("read-only memory") drives were just being installed in businesses in 1984, according to the Journal of Macromarketing.

Mr. Roberts unrolled BibioFile for libraries in 1985, the year before Microsoft announced the technology at its first major CD-ROM conference.

In 1996, Mr. Roberts left the company in his ex-wife's hands. Annette Murphy remains the president and chief executive officer of the Library Corp., which currently has installed services in more than 4,400 libraries facilities or schools worldwide, according to the company's website.

He moved to clothing-optional Paradise Lakes Resort in Lutz, a far cry from the West Virginia estate he left behind.

"In his mind, nudist people were more authentic. They didn't wear masks," said Janet Roberts, a former psychotherapist who was giving a talk about "100 things to do in Tampa" when they met.

They married in 1998. A few days later, Mr. Roberts, who had gone by his birth name of Murphy until then, mentioned he had changed his last name to hers.

"We had had no discussion," said Janet Roberts, 75. "It was a very touching gesture, but it was total shock."

Mr. Roberts tried his hand at developing other technology companies, but those businesses failed. He enjoyed art and opera, camping in France, sailing on a 38-footer and flying over the Blue Ridge Mountains in a glider.

He valued "the quietness, the freedom and the control that you have" and watching birds soar beside him, his wife said.

In 2006, perhaps aware that he was declining from Alzheimer's disease, Mr. Roberts wrote a letter for his wife to read after his death. Among other things, he urged her to remarry.

"Never a tombstone to visit, never a regret," he wrote. "Never stop living every day in your creatively beautiful, complex ways."

Mr. Roberts died May 24 at Melech Hospice. He was 74. He was cremated without ceremony, according to his wishes.

Researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.

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