Stevenson Library at Bard College
we gear up for another semester in Annandale, the breeze brings the musk of
last peaches, and grapes now, and tomatoes. There will be just under 1,400 students
on campus this year studying everything from human rights to human anatomy,
and using the Stevenson Library in more ways than ever before. More ways certainly
than its earliest benefactor, Reverend Hoffman could have forseen when he shoved
the cornerstone into place in 1893. An original collection that would have fit
comfortably into a Chevy Tahoe, has grown to more than 300,000 volumes. The
structure that he described with great pride as "magnifical" at the
building's dedication received a playful postmodern make-over designed by Robert
Venturi, one hundred years later, in 1993.
of the great marvels of libraries, of course, is that in every aspect we are
actively engaged with the past, with our various traditions, and with the future,
the great "beyonding" of our imaginations. The works of Ptolemy and
Stephen Hawking are open side by side; a bookcase that once belonged to Revolutionary
War General Schuyler now sits in the midst of a wireless computer study area;
students comb the stacks and the archives along with online journals and image
databases. And it seems that the more teaching and research materials become
available online, the more the library has become a kind of marketplace of ideas,
a meeting place for students to test new ideas on each other. This would be
the very idea Francis Bacon had in mind when he described learning as a cumulative,
collaborative, experimental enterprise.
have always associated reading with trouble. Love and trouble. Just think of
Dante's Paolo and Francesca: "and time and time again that reading/ led
our eyes to meet, and made our faces pale..." Of course, they end up in
Hell. At any time reading might mean intimacy and community; excitement and
danger; great risk and great reward. On the best days, when everything is working,
this is precisely what engagement with people doing the work of education can
be all about.
Jeff Katz, Stevenson Library, Bard College
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