November 28: This Legendary State Librarian Rewrote the Book.

 

Today in 1900, Granby native George Seymour Godard was appointed Connecticut’s third State Librarian. The hand-picked choice of his predecessor Charles J. Hoadley, who had died the month before, Godard served as State Librarian for 35 years. During that time, he radically expanded the mission of the state library system, and made the Connecticut State Library  a nationally and internationally acclaimed model of competence, efficiency, and service.

Godard was an exceptional politician as well as gifted administrator. Within a month of his appointment he began educating the governor about the need to create a new facility for the state’s disorganized and poorly catalogued collections – then housed in four separated rooms within the State Capitol – and to focus the state’s collecting policies on a carefully detailed list of materials related to governmental operations and the law. Godard’s persuasive and persistent efforts were rewarded with the construction of the luxurious Beaux Arts style State Library and Supreme Court building, begun in 1908, to which Godard and his library staff moved on the 10th anniversary of his appointment, November 28, 1910.

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Detail from portrait – George S. Godard before 1662 Royal Charter (Connecticut State Library)

From his new headquarters, Godard racked up an additional quarter century’s worth of impressive public service achievements. He was in charge of the state’s 1917 military census, and served as Director of the War Records Committee of the State Council of Defense in 1918 and 1919. In 1921, he negotiated the return to Connecticut, from the Massachusetts Historical Society, of the papers of Connecticut’s Revolutionary War governor Johnathan Trumbull – a collection that included 29 manuscript volumes, four letter books, and muster rolls of Connecticut soldiers who fought in the revolution. He saw to the restoration of all the portraits of Connecticut governors displayed in the State Library’s Memorial Hall. He served on the Governor’s Revolutionary War Sesquicentennial Commission in 1926, the George Washington Bicentennial Commission of 1931-32, and the publications Committee of the State Tercentenary Commission. At the same time, he grew the library itself to include the Supreme Court Law Library, the Legislative Reference Department, State archives, and a modern photostat department.

Godard was nationally and internationally recognized for his achievements. When the United States Congress created the National Archives in 1934, the new organization visited the Connecticut State Library four times to study Godard’s operations and procedures. In a 1935 interview, held on the 35th anniversary of his appointment, Godard described his organization in a way that reflected the spirit and energy he had brought to his career. “The Connecticut State Library is a group of departments, housed in a model building, with interesting and competent assistants, whose aim and purpose is to serve intelligently, promptly, and courteously, not only the inquirers of our own generation, but, so far as possible, also those who are to follow.”

Godard died on February 12, 1936, and befitting his lifelong dedication, his funeral was held in the Memorial Hall of the State Library, where he lay in repose. Honorary pallbearers included Governor Wilbur Cross, Chief Justice William Maltbie, and a veritable who’s who of state dignitaries. By way of eulogy, a mourner at his funeral offered the Hartford Courant a short poem.

Dead he lay among his books, The peace of God was in his looks.

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Godard Lying in repose in the State Library Memorial Hall, February 1936 (Connecticut State Library)

Entry Suggested by Dave Spellman and David Corrigan

Further Reading:

A Photographic History of the Connecticut State Library and Supreme Court Building,” Connecticut State Library

Gladys Judd, “Memorial George S GodardLaw Library Journal