Albert Brecht: In Memoriam
Remembering Albert Brecht
USC Gould School of Law Associate Dean and CIO
A leader in the field of law librarianship and pioneer in the use of technology for legal research
Albert Brecht, associate dean, chief information officer and John Stauffer Professor of Law at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law, passed away at his home in Los Angeles on March 26, 2012. He was 65.
A trailblazer in the field of law librarianship and the profession's advancement through technology, Brecht was appointed the director of USC's law library at the age of 30 in 1975. In an interview with the Southern California chapter of the American Association of Law Libraries (SCALL), he said that "Supervising staff who were significantly older than me was a big challenge, and it was scary at first, but when I reflect back, how did I manage to be director so young - youthful ego and at the right place at the right time!"
Brecht was a pioneer in ushering in the use of information technology in the field and specialized in computerized legal research and the expanding role of law librarians in the scholarly pursuits of faculty.
"During these nearly 40 years, Albert transformed how we think of law libraries through his singular focus on service," said Robert K. Rasmussen, Dean of USC Gould. "Albert was the gold standard of both librarians and friends. He will truly be missed."
Brecht never hesitated to mentor, encourage and support new law librarians. In 2002, SCALL awarded Albert its highest honor: Rohan Chapter Service Award for his outstanding service and contributions to SCALL as an active member and a mentor to many newer law librarians who went on to oversee law libraries across the country.
"Albert was my boss, mentor, colleague and friend," said Pauline Aranas '81, associate dean and acting dean of library and information technology. "He had a gift for hiring the best talented young professionals and giving them the guidance and creativity to grow and develop as leaders in law librarianship."
Brecht took the lead in two major renovation projects at the law school including a complete remodel of the law library in 2005.
Brecht did not know anyone in California when he arrived at USC in 1972. He credited the Trojan Family for welcoming him to its campus and returned the favor by being an active member of its community. Provosts and presidents appointed him to a number of university committees including the University Budget Advisory Committee, the Provost's Committee on the Reorganization of ISD and the Joint Academic Senate/Provost Committee on Library Services (2007-08).
Brecht was an early member of USC Lambda LGBT Alumni Association and served two terms as its president. He oversaw the inaugural scholarship fundraising campaign, netting the association its first $20,000. He also launched signature events such as a campus wide run/walk fundraiser and an annual picnic at the Hollywood Bowl, a favorite tradition to this day. In 2008, his service to USC Lambda was recognized with the USC Alumni Association President's Award.
Brecht served the law library profession as a past president of both the American Association of Law Libraries and the Southern California Chapter of the American Association of Law Libraries. He also chaired many AALL and SCALL committees.
"I am deeply saddened to hear of Albert's passing, and the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) community will miss him greatly," said Darcy Kirk, President of the American Association of Law Libraries. "Albert was devoted to the profession of law librarianship, serving as president and an active member of the Social Responsibilities Special Interest Section. The many law librarians who worked with him and mentored will also remember him fondly through his leadership."
Brecht earned his B.A. at North Texas State University and his J.D. at the University of Houston. He developed a strong interest in law librarianship when he was working as a part-time student assistant in reference while attending law school, and he later earned his master's degree in law librarianship at the University of Washington. In 1973, he was appointed assistant law librarian at USC under the direction of Francis Gates. In 1975, after Gates left to head Columbia Law Library, Brecht was appointed director of USC's law library.
Comments & Tributes
As part of our tribute, an e-mail account for individuals wishing to send their remembrances or other comments regarding Albert has been established. Please send your remembrances to email@example.com for inclusion on this page.
When I interviewed with Albert for a position at the USC Law Library he seemed so very young to me. It turns out he was; Albert was thirty-one years old and I was twenty-five years old! Obviously we had good feelings for one another; otherwise we wouldn't have continued to work with each for over thirty years.
Working with Albert at the USC Law Library has been my pleasure. Together over the decades we saw many changes in law librarianship including the advent of the computer, Lexis and Westlaw, and the transition from print to electronic resources. He stressed the importance of never being complacent and never believing that you are indispensable. During it all Albert kept questioning procedures and always looked for ways to improve. Everyone is aware of Albert's succinct three word philosophy; "Service, service, service." Very early on Albert emphasized the concept of library service; in his mind service is the one thing that can distinguish each of the librarians as individuals and the library as a whole to the students and faculty.
My professional life has been very fulfilling. My appreciation goes out to Albert for continuously encouraging me to be involved in the profession. Under his tutelage my experiences in SCALL, AALL, the university and various other organizations has enhanced my knowledge, my confidence, and my understanding of others. Any praise others may have extended to me for my efforts I share with Albert.
Albert's keen appreciation for aesthetics was apparent in his dress and manners, the architectural style of his home, and the importance he placed on the appearance of the library. For many years a fresh floral arrangement graced the entry foyer to the library on a weekly basis. In the early decades of Albert's career every business day was not complete without the daily 3:00pm break with brewed tea and cookies.
His commitment to beauty was combined with a side of his nature appreciative of wicked, frivolous, and playful humor. At a surprise party for me Albert gave me two gifts which exemplify the two sides of his personality. One gift was a beautiful pair of earrings. The other gift was a slime toy. At the party Albert demonstrated the toy; he threw it against a wall where the slimy toy oozed and gurgled its way down the wall. The reaction of everyone was priceless but Albert delighted in it the most.
Albert and I shared many serious conversations about work but I treasure our personal moments together. We smiled, we argued, we criticized, we acted silly, and we shared too many tears of pain and many, many tears from laughter.
Albert was my teacher, my mentor, and my friend. I am grateful for the time that we shared together.
Barnett Info Tech Center & Call Law Library
USC Gould School of Law
Albert was a very considerate, thoughtful supervisor when I worked part time in the Law Library while attending law school back in the mid-1970's. But in later years, we were neighbors in the Los Feliz area, and I saw him socially and informally on a number of occasions. He was a very nice gentleman of the type we don't see often enough. I hadn't seen him for several years and was shocked and saddened to learn that he had passed away. My condolences to his family, close friends, and colleagues
Ron Steensland '76
I worked for Albert for the first nine years of my career as a librarian. Accepting his offer to join the wonderful USC staff was one of the smartest decisions of my life, but I can't claim credit for that wisdom. My advisor at the law school where I was an intern simply said, "You have the opportunity to work for Albert Brecht. There are no other job offers to consider." He was absolutely right. It was an extraordinary experience. Everything I know about libraries and quality service I learned from Albert and my USC colleagues and friends. We worked hard, but it was a perfect fit that all seemed completely right and natural. Albert somehow had the unique ability to challenge us, set standards for us, and encourage us to grow, while at the same time being a wonderful friend.
I truly appreciate and am thankful for the professional training I received from Albert, but it is his friendship that I will forever appreciate and will miss the most. We had so many good times together as friends that I cannot begin to describe them all or how important they are to me. He listened to me when my mother died shortly after I moved to Los Angeles, he laughed with me when we couldn't cut the inedible pie crust I had brought for dinner at his house, and he was there for pretty much every experience in between that friends share together. I was lucky to have Albert as a boss, but I was luckier to have him as a friend.
Associate Dean and Director of Biddle Law Library
University of Pennsylvania Law School
Albert was always willing to share his knowledge with local as well as international law librarians. While working at California Western School of Law, I drove our two foreign law librarian visitors/interns from Thailand up to the USC law library. Albert and his staff gave them an inside tour of every department and then treated me and the visitors to lunch in the faculty center. Albert's kindness and generosity are his legacy.
Thomas Jefferson School of Law Library
Albert gave me my first professional position in 1976. I had the good fortune to work for him for thirteen years, and to this day when pondering some of my own administrative decisions I think WWAD? (I told him that once, and he just loved it!) He had many gifts, not the least of which were his ability to think strategically about law library service and his knack for recruiting enthusiastic and competent professional librarians. It takes courage and character to knowingly hire strong and opinionated lieutenants, and Albert consistently did so.
There were a few of us who started out in the profession together in the mid 70s. We learned together and grew together and Albert was our leader. We also had the privilege of working for the law school at a time when our Deans were transitioning the USC Law Center as it was known then from regional to national prominence. The library staff had the fun and excitement of contributing to this effort in a small way through the development of superlative faculty support services and improved library collections. Again, Albert's leadership and vision guided our efforts.
I have many fond memories of working for Albert â€“ frankly, it was a lot of fun to work for Albert. He believed in working hard and playing hard, and we all did plenty of both. He knew 'everybody' in the law library world and he was always sure to introduce new librarians to the national 'super stars', as well as to the members of the "Old Guard". Sometimes when a law library dignitary came to visit, he would invite us in to chat, or to have lunch. He encouraged professional activities because he understood that connections with other colleagues meant that we could stay up on best practices or new trends and implement them back home. He encouraged staff social events, including the annual faculty holiday luncheon, the summer parties , the "tea time" breaks, the group lunches, etc., knowing that a collegial staff is more effective at meeting the goals of the institution than a staff that is more isolated. I count my past and present USC colleagues as cherished friends and colleagues. I will never forget Albert and I will be forever grateful for the experience I had working for him and for USC. He was a wonderful and generous boss in every way and a true leader of law librarians. He died too young, and he will be missed. My sincerest condolences to the USC Gould School of Law community for our mutual loss.
Victoria K. Trotta USC JD '86 &
Associate Dean for the Ross-Blakley Law Library
Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law
Arizona State University
When I first moved to LA and Whittier Law Library in 1976 Albert was so very kind and welcoming to me. He was there at the first SCALL meeting I attended and made me immediately feel a part of the local community. He encouraged me to become involved in the professional associations and was always ready to give me advice and support in those early days at Whittier. I recall we asked Albert to be a consultant and his guidance was key to the success of the library during the ABA process. Through the years we remained close and spoke from time about professional and personal matters. I wish I had taken more time with him, but I never expected to not be at the other end of a call or message. His legacy will be the strong library and stronger staff at the USC Law Library.
I will be forever grateful to him. Although I never actually worked with him I feel he was a giant presence in my career, as well as in the local and national law library community. We all are better for is support and guidance. I know we will all miss him in ways we have not begun to imagine.
J. Denny Haythorn
Associate Dean of Library and Information Services & Professor of Law
Whittier College School of Law
I had the pleasure and reward of knowing Albert as both my professor at USC's library school in the late 1970's and my colleague in the L.A. law librarian community since then. He served as a model for me at the start of my career with his intelligence, professionalism and enthusiasm, but he was more impressive later in our careers as we experienced the systemic upheavals to librarianship brought on by technology and changes to the business models for libraries of all sorts. He remained steadfastly positive in addressing these changes and, in his typically modest and gracious southern gentleman manner, curious about how his colleagues were handling them, whether in academic, government, court, county, or law firm libraries.
Some say it's the old-fashioned virtues, such as kindness, modesty, and tolerance, that you remember most about a person when he or she dies, not titles or professional accomplishments. This is indeed true for me; It is the memory of Albert's fundamental decency that I will value the most from our friendship.
Director of Libraries
Irell & Manella LLP
Since I will probably not be able to attend the memorial service for Albert, I must post these thoughts about the amazing Albert Brecht. He and I were pledge brothers at the Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity at North Texas State University in 1967. Albert was the pledge class president and later rush chairman. He also served on the challenging executive committee of the chapter. There have been very few people that I have known in life who compare to Albert's character, professionalism and good spirit. He was always a favorite of the chapter at North Texas and probably was the classiest of the bunch. I will always remember his mischievous smile and his tremendous sense of humor. He related to everyone and was always there for them when needed. I am so glad I knew you, Albert... you will be missed.
North Texas Class of 1969
I knew Al for more than 25 years through our work with AALL. He always had a smile and a word of encouragement for everyone. He will be missed.
Lynn Connor Merring
Attorneys at Law
Albert--the consummate librarian and gentleman--was a terrific source of wisdom and guidance during my 16 years directing the library crosstown from Albert at Loyola Law School. Albert was the moving force behind the Long Range Planning Group which provided a forum for law library directors in southern California to share ideas and aspirations for our institutions and to find additional strength in our joint undertakings. Our most notable undertaking was the signing at USC law school of our mutual cooperative inter library loan program for members of the Long Range Planning Committee. Albert's vision not only brought the library directors into the agreement, but resulted in all the law school deans joining in and assuring their law school's participation in the cooperative effort. Albert's quiet but effective leadership assured the success of this undertaking. Law librarianship is diminished by Albert's passing, but the profession finds strength in Albert's memory and accomplishments.
Professor Robert J. Nissenbaum
Director, Law Library and
Professor of Law
Fordham University School of Law
I remember Albert Brecht well. Albert taught me so much about legal research but, above all, I remember how kindly he treated me. Albert was one of my favorite professors. My condolences to Albert's family.
Senior Manager | State Strategic Tax Review
Deloitte Tax LLP
I had the pleasure and privilege of working under Albert in my first professional law librarian post at the USC Law Library. Albert was a kind, vivacious and intelligent man with passion for law librarianship. At the time I worked for him, I didn't realize how unique he was and how fortunate I was to have the opportunity to learn from him. As a law library administrator, I have come to adopt many of the practices I observed while working with Albert. But, try as I might, I will never be as well-dressed as him! Oh, the beautiful Italian ties he had... I'll never forget those ties or his infectious smile.
Jennifer S. Murray-Mesquita
Public Access to Court Services and Law Library Administrator
Maricopa County Superior Court
It has been very difficult to write this remembrance of Albert Brecht, and I have taken too many days to think about what to say. I met Albert in 1969 at the University of Houston when he started to law school and worked in the law library. I had joined the library staff a year earlier and started to law school part-time. Albert was a stand out from the very first. We both loved the library and even had some classes together. Al Coco supported both of us and we all encouraged Albert to become a law librarian which he did with great success. He was a leader in our profession, a kind and gentle person who was so supportive of younger librarians. More than that, I was lucky to count him as one of my best friends.
We were friends for all of those 43 years; we shared triumphs, both AALL and AALS meetings with special dinners and visited each other's homes. We talked careers, library issues, loves and dreams. I will miss him more than I can say, but we are all so much better for having had Albert in our lives.
Laura N. Gasaway
Paul B. Eaton Distinguished Professor of Law
University of North Carolina School of Law
I first met Albert 10 years ago as a library student seeking an internship at an academic law library. I was fortunate to have a number of such opportunities available to me, but upon meeting with Albert and his library colleagues, it became immediately obvious to me that USC is where I wanted to work to learn the ropes of law librarianship. Happily, Albert invited me to join his staff as an intern -- an offer which I immediately accepted. In retrospect, it is abundantly clear that accepting that internship ranks as one of the the best personal and professional decisions I have ever made.
Of course, it is impossible to truly capture what an amazing person and mentor Albert was in a brief remembrance. Suffice it to say I feel incredibly blessed to have worked with and learned from such a legendary figure in law librarianship. I will always remember (and marvel at) his kindness and willingness to spend time with and mentor a green intern at his library. I hope he felt the time was well spent. He certainly left an indelible impression upon me, and I will always remember his kindness, service ethos and the way he treated future and current colleagues - something I aspire in my own professional life. He will be greatly missed but fondly remembered.
Timothy C. Von Dulm
Head of Reference Services
Biddle Law Library
University of Pennsylvania Law School
I have missed the friendly greeting I could always expect from Albert on those occasions when our paths crossed in the building and I am saddened by the news of his passing. He had such a kind spirit and I will always remember him fondly.
Mary J. Bingham
Director of Financial Services
USC Gould School of Law
Albert regularly went to art openings and museum shows. I really enjoyed talking to him about Art and it was always nice when he would recommend a recent exposition that he had seen. I always thought that it was really cool that he was so knowledgeable not only in Law and the Library Sciences, but in the Arts as well. Albert will definitely be missed.
I worked with Albert for about a dozen years as a colleague on the USC Law Faculty. For many of those years, we worked together on the Information Technologies Committee. Albert always showed good judgment and integrity. He was also extraordinary in his ability to select and retain excellent people to manage and work in the library and computing services. Whenever he was in the room, he brought an air of dignity and wisdom.
USC Gould School of Law
Albert was a kind man. He always took a moment, had a smile and treated people well. I will remember him for that - and what a nice memory it is and will be.
Graduate & International Programs
USC Gould School of Law
I met Albert when I was a student in library school, about 20 years ago. I was finishing my Masters in Library Science degree at UCLA. Since my goal was to obtain a library position in a local academic law library, I decided to mail out my resume to all of the academic law library directors in the Los Angeles area. None of these libraries were advertising any openings at the time, so I didn't really expect to hear back from any of the libraries. However, the one person who did respond to my "mass mailing" was Albert. He personally called me (this was before the days of e-mail) and even though USC Law Library did not have any openings at that time, he invited me to come to USC Law Library and meet and have lunch with him, Pauline, and Hazel. I of course accepted this very gracious offer and was so very impressed with everyone I met and the hospitality they showed me. When a reference position at USC Law Library did open up the following year, I was that much more eager to apply for this position, given the generosity I was shown by Albert and his staff during my visit the prior year. When I think back on this experience though, I think how well it captures some of the things that made Albert so special â€“ his desire to reach out to others and establish connections with people, his interest in mentoring, especially those new to the law library profession, his warmth and graciousness towards others, as well as his proactive approach to managing the library.
In looking back at my career at USC Law Library, I think one of the reasons why I've stayed at USC so long is that Albert was such a motivating, supportive, and nurturing director. He had an excellent ability to recognize other people's strengths, and he provided opportunities for them to showcase and make use of their talents. He challenged us to always strive for excellence and his high standards typically made us perform better. Albert also gave opportunities to those who worked here (including myself) to grow and develop new skills and "move up the ranks" within the library. He also supported those who felt they needed to move on for one reason or another, and he tried to stay connected with former colleagues, particularly through his annual reception at AALL and his invitations to former staff members at our annual holiday party.
On a personal level, I'll miss Albert as a colleague and friend. We would occasionally attend operas and dance concerts together and I always enjoyed his wit and camaraderie when we socialized together. He was such a natural when it came to conversing with others, and I always admired how easy it came to him. I'll also always remember what a gracious host he was for the parties he planned at his house. His champagne tasting party and 50th birthday party were especially memorable (for the latter, he hired a USC student from the music department to sing some arias â€“ it added a great touch).
Albert's last years were very difficult for him and his loved ones, but even until the very end, he demonstrated the same strength, determination, and to the extent possible, good humor that he showed throughout his life. I know his legacy will be large, and he will be missed by many, including myself.
USC Gould School of Law
I remembered how he loved Greek food, especially the stuffed grape leaves. He would have a big smile on his face and reminded Eva and I to get some.
USC Gould School of Law
Albert was the sweetest guy in the world which, nevertheless, could not hide how incredibly smart and able he was as head of our library. In fact, I find it very difficult to imagine the Law Library without Albert. His smarts, gentle humor, charisma... and cowboy boots... will always be with me.
USC Gould School of Law
I was an undergraduate student library worker when I first met Albert (or rather saw him making his daily afternoon rounds of the library). I was impressed immediately by his professionalism and dedication to the USC Law Library. Even as lowly student workers, we were expected to uphold his high standards of service and excellence. It was then that I realized the value and importance of libraries. Many, many years later, I returned to the law library as a librarian. I was fortunate to have worked with Albert as a colleague if only for a brief time. Yet his steadfast library principles of service, centrality, and diligence will continue to guide me in my career.
Law Librarian - Research Services
USC Gould School of Law
I remember Albert as a dinner partner for more than 20 years on the Saturday nights before AALL. He was always so handsome, so dapper, so fun, and so kind. He is one of those people you know casually that makes such a lasting impression. When our Director position came open, I called Albert - perhaps knowing so many fine directors who had worked for him in the past - or just perhaps because he was my friend and mentor. What a surprise to me that he said immediately, I know someone who would be great. His name is Darin Fox and he just moved back to Norman. At my request, the Dean allowed me to serve on the Library Director Search Committee, perhaps a risky move on his part, but he trusted me. And I think that has turned out OK. In the search process, Albert took time to write a lengthy recommendations in Darin's behalf which of course were important to us. I remember too, the faculty members speaking so highly of USC as an institution. Albert, Alan, Lolly, Paul and others, put me in the company of great librarians on those Saturday nights. I feel so fortunate to have known Albert even on a "same time, next year" basis. I have very much missed seeing him at AALL and know that he was seriously ill. How sad for all of us to lose him.
Marilyn K Nicely
Head of Technical Services &
American Indian Law Subject Specialist
Donald E Pray Law Library
Andrew M Coats Hall
University of Oklahoma