August 24, 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the death of William Howard Brett, the renowned librarian who served as Director of Cleveland Public Library from 1884 to 1918. As a widely celebrated and respected leader in the library field, Brett’s legacy is enduring. He advocated for the “open shelf” system to bolster public access to library materials, vastly increased the Library’s circulation and staff size, trained and mentored aspiring librarians, was known as “the greatest children’s librarian,” served as a dean of the Western Reserve Library School, and, most of all, worked tirelessly on behalf of the Library and the city’s citizens during his 34-year tenure. Brett was much beloved by both his staff and the Cleveland community, and he is considered one of the nation’s great founding librarians.
Brett was struck and killed by a drunk driver in downtown Cleveland on August 24, 1918. At the time, he was carrying architectural plans for the Main Library building, which would be completed in 1925. Brett was succeeded in his work by Linda A. Eastman, his longtime colleague and friend who went on to become a celebrated Director of the Library in her own right. Eastman was with Brett at the time of the fatal accident, and she went on to respond to and archive many of the condolences that flooded the Library following his death. She also assisted in organizing memorials, commiserating with staff members, and carrying on Brett’s work and legacy.
Two slideshows appear below. The first features excerpts from some of the condolences sent following Brett’s death; unless otherwise noted, these excerpts were selected from letters addressed to Eastman. The next slideshow offers a visual sampling of correspondence, news items, and memorial publications surrounding Brett’s passing. All materials are published here courtesy of the Cleveland Public Library Archives: