Longtime Stanford librarian James Breedlove dies at 80
James M. Breedlove, a longtime Stanford librarian who gathered thousands of Latin American and Iberian materials, died on June 12.
James M. Breedlove, who oversaw the Latin American and Iberian collections at Stanford Libraries for 25 years, died at his daughter’s home in Menlo Park on June 12 of cancer. He was 80.
Breedlove, who also taught courses on Latin American studies at Stanford, was known for his dedication to preserving history, his passion for Hispanic cultures and his generous nature.
“Jim was a particularly kind person to everyone: faculty, students, colleagues,” said Roberto Trujillo, director of Special Collections at the libraries who worked alongside Breedlove for a decade. “That kindness permeated everything he did for Stanford. It wasn’t just a job for him. He wanted to be helpful in any way he could to anyone in need.”
Originally from Fort Worth, Texas, Breedlove joined Stanford Libraries in 1968 after getting a master’s degree in Latin American history from the University of Texas at Austin.
Breedlove was Stanford’s first curator for Latin American and Iberian materials. Under his supervision, the collection’s holdings expanded in the fields of anthropology, economics and political science. During his last decade at Stanford, Breedlove also focused on growing materials related to Central America and the Caribbean, Trujillo said.
“Developing the collections at Stanford was very important to him,” said Beth Mattsson, Breedlove’s daughter. “He loved traveling as part of his work, and he felt he was doing important work by preserving knowledge about Latin American studies and culture.”
Breedlove described the job of a university librarian as being “a jack-of-all-trades” in a story published in the university’s Campus Report in 1977. He said his duties included building relationships with professors, identifying what materials are needed and traveling in order to acquire them.
“It’s happened more than once that I went to a bookstore, noticed a stairway in back, and asked the owner where it went,” Breedlove was quoted saying in the 1977 story. “He’s told me I wouldn’t be interested in those old books, but when I look, I end up spending a week upstairs in a treasure trove of materials.”
Breedlove’s passion for Latin American cultures started in his early years. Growing up in a multicultural town in Texas, he developed friendships with Mexican and Mexican American children on the playground, Mattsson said.
“He fell in love with the Mexican culture when he was young, and since then he was always interested in Latin America,” Mattsson said. “He even sometimes would say he wished he was born Mexican.”
Aside from his curating duties at the Stanford Libraries, Breedlove also served as a member of the Committee on Latin American Studies and taught a graduate seminar on Latin American bibliography and library research.
“Working with book dealers and academic institutions throughout Latin America, Europe and the United States, Jim acquired literally thousands of books, serials and other research materials,” Trujillo wrote in a 1993 farewell letter celebrating Breedlove’s work. “His contributions over a 25-year period will always be a major asset of the University Libraries.”
In his spare time, Breedlove enjoyed traveling, spending time with family and friends, gardening, and writing poetry, Mattsson said.
After he retired from Stanford in 1993, Breedlove moved to Mexico, where he lived until he became ill in 2018. While living in Oaxaca, Breedlove co-founded Libros para Pueblos, a nonprofit that aims to foster a passion for reading among underprivileged children.
Breedlove is survived by his ex-wife, Lucy Taylor; his daughters, Katie Breedlove and Beth Mattsson; and his sons, Larry Breedlove and Philip Breedlove, as well as their families and his beloved dog, Roxanne.
A memorial service will be held Wednesday, Aug. 15, at Unity Church, 3391 Middlefield Road in Palo Alto, at 6 p.m., followed by a reception. Donations in Breedlove’s memory can be made to Libros para Pueblos.