Obituary: Douglas Bryant

Douglas Wallace Bryant, librarian: born Visalia, California 20 June 1913: attache, US Embassy, London 1949-52; Associate Director, Harvard University Library 1955-64, University Librarian, Harvard 1964-72, Director, University Library 1972-79; married 1953 Rene Kuhn (one daughter); died Boston, Massachusetts 12 June 1994.

DOUGLAS BRYANT's life was spent in service to libraries, notably, but by no means exclusively, at Harvard University.

In his profession he was a commanding figure, but never was command more gently applied or more willingly obeyed. Like a good general, he began no campaign until he was sure he had the resources to win it.

Douglas Bryant was born in Visalia, then a small town in eastern California. He was a precocious child who did well at school, and he was only 16 when he became a freshman at Stanford University. He was, in fact, too young to enjoy it, and wisely his mother suggested that he take a year out. Accordingly, in 1932-33 he went to Munich. It was a time when, he once said, he grew up several years in one. It was his first experience of Europe; he learnt German, a skill he turned to good effect; and he saw the first triumph of National Socialism, which gave him a dislike of tyranny. He returned to Stanford, from which he took his bachelor's degree in 1935.

He then moved to Michigan University to take his Masters degree. He was already fascinated by books and libraries, and also took a diploma in librarianship at Ann Arbor. He was determined to pay his own way and was fortunate enough to get a job as assistant curator in the William Clements Library at Ann Arbor, whose librarian, Randolph G. Adams, was far-sighted and enthusiastic, an inspiring boss. The contents, as well as the Librarian, of the Clements Library had a strong influence on the young Bryant.

In 1938 he went to Detroit Public Library as senior reference assistant, becoming Assistant Librarian of the Burton Historical Collection there. In 1942, he enlisted in the US Navy. He was commissioned and spent the rest of the war in the Bureau of Aeronautics. After the war was over, he was sent on an extraordinary mission to recover documents on the V1 rocket, buried in an Austrian lake. Back home, he became Assistant Librarian at the University of California at Berkeley.

In 1949, Bryant was appointed attache to the US Embassy in London with special responsibility for the United States Information Service libraries in Britain. There were branches in Manchester, Cardiff, Edinburgh and elsewhere. He was largely responsible for creating the co-operative bond between British and American libraries, now an international network. In particular, he made a close and lasting friendship with FC Francis, then Principal Keeper of Printed Books at the British Museum and later Director of the museum. He was thus in at the start of Frank Francis's great plan to print the entire catalogue of the British Museum, by photographing the catalogue's index cards and arranging them on pages. This was completed in the 1960s and was one of the largest contributions to scholarship in the humanities of the century.

The lesson was not lost on Bryant. When he returned in 1952 to become Assistant Librarian of Harvard University, he had a wide vision of the part that libraries could play within and far outside an academic community. His 27 years at Harvard saw outstanding growth. Successively Associate University Librarian (1955-64), University Librarian (1964-72), and Director of the University Library (1972-79), he did much to enable its growth and see that it was soundly supported by firm and unobstructive administration. Two of his former subordinates, William A. Jackson, first librarian of the Houghton Library, and Philip Hofer, in the Department of Printing and Graphic Arts, became close friends and coadjutors.

Outside Harvard, Bryant did an enormous amount to foster co-operation between libraries in the US. He was a prominent member of the American Library Association, and was one of the founders of the American Council of Research Libraries (ACRL), becoming chairman of its board of directors in 1969-70. He was largely responsible for applying Francis's recipe to The National Union Catalog of the main research libraries of the United States, running to over 700 volumes. As consultant to the Ford Foundation from 1954, he was able to put its resources behind another Anglo-American venture, the Short-Title Catalogue of English Books printed before 1640, whose masterly revision was Bill Jackson's life work. The Ford Foundation enabled him to play a decisive role in the establishment of the Freie Universitat in Berlin, and thus to become again involved in libraries and their re-establishment in Germany. The Rockefeller Foundation sent him to Japan to do the same for Tokyo University, linking its libraries to the same modern American methods of shared cataloguing.

In all this large-scale activity, Bryant never lost sight of individual books. He admired and encouraged fine printing, for which he had a critical but appreciative eye. In his retirement he chaired a committee charged by Brown University with examining the role of the John Carter Brown Library. But with retirement, too, came a chance to re-establish the closer of all his international ties, that with Britain. There he had met his wife, Rene, then press officer at the US Embassy.

By now the British Library had been separated from the British Museum, and its need for American support, particularly for American books missing due to enemy action or deficiency of funds, was great. This suggested to Lord Eccles and the late Arthur A. Houghton the creation of the American Trust for the British Library in 1979. Bryant became a Trustee and its first Director, retiring in 1990. He threw himself into the task, raising millions of dollars to buy books and creating the campaign to microfilm US books and periodicals not otherwise available in Britain.

To say that Bryant lived for his work might suggest a boring life. Nothing is further from the truth. He had an endless curiosity about everything that came his way, the natural world, art and architecture. He loved writing as well as reading (and no good new book escaped him), and the King James Version of the Bible with which he grew up was always in his ears whenever he wrote anything, from an official report to the punctual correspondence that delighted its recipients. He bore the crosses of life, the twisted nerves that distorted his handsome face 25 years ago (he was fascinated to become the trial for pharmacological rather than surgical treatment), and recently more serious illness, with equanimity.

Latterly his only daughter Heather, who had followed him to Michigan, returned to Massachusetts. It was a great happiness in his old age to see twin grandchildren. The delight that they gave him was a well-deserved reward for all the amusement, courtesy, friendship and solid help that he gave to so many during his own long and richly productive life.

(Photograph omitted)

ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

HR Manager - Edgware, London - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - Edgware, Lon...

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Talent Manager / HR Manager - central London - £50,000

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Talent / Learning & Development Mana...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam