Gerald Tibbetts was born on the 22nd January 1926, in Brackley, Northants. He was called into the army just before the end of the Second World War when he was 18 and was posted to Malay and India in the Royal Army Education Corps. Through this experiences he developed an interest in languages with unique scripts and taught himself Arabic, Hebrew and Assyrian. In addition to this, he decided to study Arabic and Hebrew at Magdalen College in Oxford graduating in 1951.
Tibbetts also had an interest in library studies and took a Postgraduate qualification in Librarianship at London University. Whilst studying he was also associated with the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London, and completed a dissertation entitled: 'Arabia in early maps.' Whilst he was undertaking this course he met his future wife (Hazel). After completing the course he took up a post in the Library at the University of Singapore (1953) where he was responsible for the classification of works in oriental languages. Through this work he developed a specialist interest in medieval Arab navigation on which he wrote a number of publications. In 1956 he became the Deputy Librarian at the University of Khartoum where he had special responsibility for the collection of Arab books and manuscripts.
In 1960 he returned to the UK when he was appointed Librarian at the newly founded Oriental Institute in Oxford. However, in 1964, he became Deputy Librarian at Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria and then Librarian of the newly founded Abdullahi Bayero University College in Kano. In this post he received considerable support from the Ford foundation to assist in the gathering of Arabic and Islamic texts for the Library.
In 1967 he became Administrative Secretary at the University of London Library where he remained until his retirement in 1990. While working at the University he published two monographs under the auspices of the Royal Asiatic Society: 'Arab navigation in the Indian Ocean before the coming of the Portuguese' (1971) and 'A study of the Arabic texts containing material on South-east Asia' (1979). His work on these publications led to him being awarded a D.Litt at Oxford University in 1982. He also served on the RAS council between 1985-1988.
Tibbets was involved in 'The Sindbad Voyage project' (1980-1981) which was led by the explorer, Tim Severin, and involved recreating ancient voyages. Tibbetts gave specialist advice to the project. He served as an Associate Editor for The History of Cartography Series published by the University of Chicago Press.