Sunday, June 13, 2010

William Howard Brett (1846-1918), Cleveland Librarian

In August 1918 Cleveland Public Library Librarian William Brett was killed by a drunken driver while trying to board a street car in front of the library. Vice-librarian Linda Eastman who was with Brett barely avoided being hit by the drunk driver. As biographer C. H. Cramer (Dictionary of American Library Biography, Libraries Unlimited, 1978) put it: "This irresponsible tippler almost succeeded in wiping out the two greatest librarians in the history of the Cleveland Public Library." I was motivated to find out more about Brett after acquiring a fragile letter written by him in May 1918 on the letterhead of the American Library Association Library War Service. It is an example of a seemingly un-impressive paper artifact leading to some interesting stories about a great library leader. Just three months before his death at age 72 Brett was taking a leave from the Cleveland Public Library to serve as the Dispatch Agent at the Newport News, VA Dispatch Office of the ALA Library War Service. It evidently had been Brett's desire to serve overseas with the Library War Service, but he had settled for the position in Newport News. This was not Brett's first involvement with the military. According to Cramer, in 1865 during the last year of the Civil War he had enlisted in the Army at age 18 only to be captured by Morgan's Raiders and taken as a prisoner to Kentucky. These interesting aspects of Brett's life serve only as a backdrop to his stellar career at the Cleveland Public Library. Part of that career is recorded on a webpage devoted to Brett Hall in the Cleveland Public Library. The image of the bust of Brett is from the Cleveland Public Library Image Collection. Other images of Brett during this period can be found HERE. It is not often that a librarian is memorialized by both a bust and a hall.


Dave said...

Thanks for the bio, Larry. Just what I was looking for.

Dave said...

Clicked on the link to 'Brett Hall'; evidently no longer exists. There is another URL that might be its successor:

There are also other references to Brett Hall on Google:

Leslie said...

Thank you! I was looking for information on him, as he was my great grandfather. I really appreciate your work and interest!