George Pitt

Obituary George Henry Pitt BA FLAA

The Australian Library Journal  May 1972, pp. 176-177.

George Henry Pitt BA. FLAA. was born on 21 January 1891 and joined the staff of the Public Library of South Australia 1906 at the age of fifteen. In 1919 he became the first archivist of the state and in 1946 was appointed to direct the Adelaide Lending Service (the first free lending library set up by the Libraries Board).  In 1948 he became principal librarian and retired from that position in 1955.  He died on 4 April 1972.

His own estimate of his good fortune in his appointment as archivist was: It gave me an opportunity to become a specialist in a worth-while field, one in which I would be continually learning; it brought me into friendly touch with many writers; it enabled me to taste for myself the pleasures of historical research; and above all, it meant that I would have a part in creating something of enduring value.

'Something of enduring value' sums up G.H. Pitt’s attitude towards libraries. He saw this in the catalogues and indexes that he made, and when he was given the chance to set up the Adelaide Lending Service he gave himself wholly to the task. While still spending his normal working day as an archivist he spent his evenings ordering and processing the books for the new department. Its opening and excitement of those early days when the staff had to run to keep up with the huge demand for books was one of the happiest periods of his life, recalled often in later years.

On the morning that his appointment as principal librarian was announced his staff were waiting in the street to greet him and he entered the library between two lines of smiling well-wishers. Within five minutes of his entry he was talking to the assembled staff about the task as he saw it. He was the leader of his team, his mind was always open to suggestions from the other players, as his door was always open.

He was a man without any conceits, always careful to acknowledge publicly any ideas that came from members of his staff.  His method tackling a problem was to gather all the evidence that he could and then to formulate his solution as clearly and concisely as possible and try it out on his colleagues, and he insisted that time should not be wasted in agreement. It was our task to try to prove him wrong.

He always got on with the job, and was not afraid to make decisions nor appalled by the size of the task.  He said 'they will blame me anyway because we all make mistakes, but l hope they blame me for what I did, not for things left undone'.  He was a happy man who worked long hours  (at one time he wrote that he rose at 5.00 am and was at work at 6.00 am); who believed in the value of his work; in argument ruthlessly  logical and dispassionate; a lover of music and animals; a voracious reader, who laughed often at the world and at himself; intolerant of humbug, arrogance and laziness.  Those who were privileged to work him can be recognized by an enthusiastic belief in libraries that cannot be put down.

‘I have had a good innings’, he said to me a few weeks ago.  Indeed he played well.  


G.H. Pitt's service to the South Australian archives was certainly the most notable of his achievements in the early part of his career.  He came to this position at a time when no other Australian state had an archives institution.  It fell to him to devise systems and to draw up a blueprint for a service at a time when even his British colleagues had not published  any basic code for the arrangement and description of archives.  He applied himself to the tasks of creating order out of archival chaos with attention to detail and a sense of mission which his friends soon came to recognize as being typical of him.

G. H. Pitt is remembered as a tireless worker, a capable organizer, a good librarian and teacher, and as a strict but invariably courteous and understanding supervisor. An avid reader, he was a regular borrower from the Adelaide Lending Service until quite recently.

R . C. SHARMAN, President, LAA