The Orthodox Parish of
& St Chad,
This is the text of an obituary printed in the professional journal of CILIP in June 2008. We are grateful for permission to reproduce it here, to the author Peter Hoare, and to Michael's colleague Jennifer Benson for making it available to us.
Michael Frederick Cecil Brook, formerly Special Collections Librarian at the University of Nottingham, died on 27 March 2008 at the age of 82.
He was born in Bristol in 1926, and after attending Abingdon School and Pembroke College Oxford, where he read Modern History, he took up a career in university libraries. He worked at Bristol and Sheffield (where he developed an abiding love of the West Riding); he studied at Leeds College of Commerce and became an Associate of the Library Association in 1953, remaining a Life Member of the LA/CILIP. He moved to Southampton, then a young university with only four assistant librarians (the others were Maurice Line, Alec Anderson and Dewi Ellis, all to become well known in the field).
In 1962 he moved to the US and spent 10 years in the library of Minnesota Historical Society. Here he developed skills as a bibliographer and reference expert, publishing his valuable Reference Guide to Minnesota History in 1974 (a supplement appeared in 1983). He found a special interest in the Swedish and other Scandinavian immigrant communities in Minnesota, particularly their radical and labour history (he learned Swedish in order to study the field), and contributed to a number of scholarly works on these topics even after he left Minnesota.
He returned to England in 1972 to take up the new post of Special Collections Librarian at the University of Nottingham Library, which was preparing to occupy its prestigious new building (now the Hallward Library). Michael had responsibility for developing and organising the East Midlands Collection, in addition to the other printed special collections. He formed strong links with the County Library's rich local studies library and the County Archives, as well as with the Thoroton Society, the county historical society which deposited its own library in the university under his care.
He produced a number of reports on recent publications for the Bulletin of Local History: East Midlands, and joined Sue Robinson for an Introductory Bibliography of the Hosiery and Lace Industries in
Nottingham. In 1987 he edited the Nottinghamshire volume of the British Library’s Bibliography of British Newspapers, the definitive listing of the county’s newspapers since 1710.
His most important work appeared after he took early retirement in 1988. He continued to compile - characteristically with little use of electronic aids - what was to become a standard reference work for local historians. A Nottinghamshire Bibliography: publications on Nottinghamshire history before 1988 was published as as a 430-page book by the Thoroton Society in 2002. As a reviewer pointed out, he was probably the only person to compile a bibliography of both an American state and an English county!
Michael was well known in the active local history world of his adopted city and county; his generosity in sharing his extraordinary knowledge, and his tact in correcting the mistakes and misapprehensions of his colleagues or even inexperienced young researchers, were widely recognised. He was also noted as an expert on ecclesiastical buildings and the 19th-century architecture of Nottingham, serving both the Victorian Society and the Chapels Society as a knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide (on paper and in the flesh).
Michael was also an indefatigable user of British bus and train services, of which his knowledge was encyclopaedic; in his late seventies he surpassed himself by travelling by rail from Nottingham to Moscow and St Petersburg. He would also surprise his friends from time to time in revealing the depth of his knowledge of films, especially of the 1940's and 50s.
By the time of his death he had been in poor health for some time, and had recently moved to an Abbeyfield home following a fall.
His enthusiasm and gentle concern for the world about him will be greatly missed by his many friends and former colleagues, including those who were able to attend his funeral at the Russian Orthodox Church in Carlton - typically, an unusual but moving ceremony.
University of Nottingham 1978-93
As the first anniversary of Michael’s death approaches, we are grateful to his friend Robin Phillips for providing a copy of the obituary that he wrote for the newsletter of The Chapels Society, of which Michael was an active member.
Our members will be sorry to hear of the death of Michael Brook on Thursday 27 March, at the age of 82. He joined our Society close to its inception, sometime before May 1990.
At that time he was working in the University of Nottingham Library, caring for the East Midlands Collection and other Special Collections. In 2002 his bibliography of publications on Nottinghamshire history before 1998, the first organised guide to the historical literature of the County, and a landmark in local scholarship, was published jointly by the Thoroton Society and the Nottingham Civic Society. Earlier in his career, after university library posts in Bristol, Sheffield and Southampton, he had worked in Minnesota for some years, but he returned to the United Kingdom in 1972 as Nottingham prepared to
open its new university library building, and there he continued until his retirement. Beyond the history of the County his research interests included Swedish emigration, trade union history and the interplay of Lancashire cotton trade with the Confederate States of America.
He served on our Council from June 1993 till July 1996, and played a vital part in preparations for our central Nottingham visit in June 1994, later leading the visit of May 2006 to Nottingham’s environs.
By the time this note is published his funeral service will have taken place, at the Russian Orthodox Church of the Holy Transfiguration in Carlton, Nottingham. Michael was a good colleague to work with, both in the library profession and in this Society. He was a gentle man, always ready to help and to share the resources of his amazingly detailed general knowledge with others. We will miss him very much.