Lyster, Thomas William (1855–1922), librarian and author, was born 17 December 1855 in Co. Kilkenny, son of Thomas Lyster of Rathdowney, Co. Laois, and Jane Lyster (née Smith) of Roscrea, Co. Tipperary. Of a quaker family, he was educated at Wesley College, Dublin, before graduating BA from TCD. In 1878 he joined the National Library of Ireland as an assistant librarian, becoming head librarian in 1895. On taking charge of the NLI he devoted himself to improving its facilities while trying to make the collection more accessible, and the number of readers rose dramatically during his term as head librarian. He firmly believed in the advantages of a classified collection and allowed students to go into the bookstacks in search of volumes relevant to their studies. He also made periodicals freely available at the library counter and put his vast bibliographical knowledge of the library's collection at the disposal of every reader. A founding member of the Library Association, he was elected as its vice-president in 1899, and began a series of public lectures promoting the expansion of the public library system and increased government expenditure in that area. In 1903 he published ‘The idea of a great public library’ in the Library Association Record, inspired by The idea of a university by John Henry Newman (qv). A founding member of the Rural Library Association in 1904, he campaigned in this cause alongside Douglas Hyde (qv) and Stephen Gwynn (qv).
Lyster was also an author in his own right, and in 1883 he translated and enlarged Düntzer's Life of Goethe. In 1893 he edited and published an anthology, English poems for young students. This became an intermediate certificate text; he had served as an examiner in English on the Intermediate Education Board from 1880. He published papers on library theory and techniques and was a frequent contributor to literary journals. His articles ‘Edward Dowden and his work’ and ‘Carlyle in Dublin’ were published in the Irish Book Lover in 1914 and 1920 respectively.
While working in the NLI, he was frequently consulted by students, due to his vast knowledge of English literature. He encouraged a young W. B. Yeats (qv) to write, and helped him revise his manuscript of ‘The island of statues’ in 1884. Yeats later referred to him as ‘the most zealous man I know’ (Kelly, Collected writings of Yeats, i, 9). He was a friend to James Joyce (qv) while he was a student and also encouraged him to write. Lyster appears as the ‘quaker librarian’ in Ulysses and is also referred in Joyce's Stephen Hero.
He retired from the NLI in 1920 and died at his Dublin home, 10 Harcourt Terrace, 12 December 1922. In 1923 a Thomas William Lyster committee was established, W. B. Yeats acting as chairman. A memorial (with a dedication composed by Yeats) was later unveiled outside the reading room in the NLI. There is a collection of letters and material relating to Lyster in the NLI, including the correspondence of the memorial committee.