Special Collections

Albert A. Howard – A personal reflection


Bibliophile, Dog lover, Cataloger, Benefactor

If Albert A. Howard described himself, I believe he would identify himself with these titles, and in this order.

Albert grew up in Belmont, Massachusetts and majored in Classics at Brown University, graduating in 1951.  He went to library school at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. He began his library career back at Brown University from 1953 to 1965 and because of his classical background, Albert cataloged rare books. This is when he started his own collection, focusing on “classics” which are now a part of the Albert A. Howard Book History Collection in Special Collections at the University of Southern Maine (USM).   He was visiting friends in New York City and browsing at University Place Bookstore, when he found an edition of Latin poetry by the Statius published in Venice in 1502.  This led to a lifelong pursuit and passion for book collecting.

Albert went on to catalog rare books at Colby College in Waterville, Maine (1965-67), Dalhousie in Halifax, Nova Scotia (1967-70), until he became the Catalog Librarian at the University of Southern Maine in 1970. He served as a special collections librarian at USM before a formal department was established. Toward the end of his 35 years at USM, he cataloged exclusively for the Osher Map Library and then Special Collections.

Throughout his life, Albert collected as his interests dictated, from classics to fine press books, to finely illustrated books, to children’s books, to chapbooks, and many other topics. His knowledge of these areas was extensive. He could pick up any book and tell you why it was special and what it told you about the society in which it was created. Albert loved having his collection used by classes. He often told me that the major universities such as Brown already had three of this and four of that, so his collection would better serve USM. Even after he retired from USM, I called him regularly to tell him how his collection was being used or ask his advice on what books we might use in a specific class.

Along with collecting books, Albert loved dogs. He always owned a dog. I do not think I ever had a conversation with Albert that did not include dogs, particularly stories of what or who his Chow, Petunia, did or did not like. How his small terrier, Jamie (rescued from a puppy farm) “sang” to the cats walking through his backyard. Dogs who were lucky enough to end up with Albert lived a charmed life.

Albert had a sardonic sense of humor. Cynthy Buffington and her partner, of Philadelphia Rare Books & Manuscripts Company, told me about their last visit to Albert in 2017:

When we visited him last, in the apartment at State Street, an aide came in with his afternoon medications; he greeted her, of course.  And then, as she started to hand him the capsules, he said with a grand gesture toward each of us ~  "What?! none for my friends?????"

This was quintessential Albert. I worked with Albert from 1999 when I arrived at USM, until he retired in 2005. Albert taught me more about rare books than I learned from graduate school or professional experience, but mostly he taught me how to cherish and enjoy them. Albert A. Howard passed away on December 29, 2017 in Portland, Maine after a short illness. 

 The Albert A. Howard Book History Collection is a testament to a man who loved books for the information they carried as well as objects of art. They carried stories both intentionally and to be interpreted. His legacy to USM will support its academic mission well past the seven centuries his collection spans.

Susie R. Bock
Coordinator of Special Collections
University of Southern Maine