The Patron's Post
Patrons of the Pollak Library
California State University Fullerton
Revisiting Three Iconic Libraries
by Albert R. Vogeler
About a decade ago I reported in the Patrons Post on the opening phases of three great new national libraries in London, Paris, and Alexandria. Now we may be able to assess how their performance has matched their promise. They were heralded during their planning, monitored during their construction, and scrutinized after their opening. They are immense, dominating, and unconventional. Equipped with the best library technology of the early 21st century, they literally and symbolically enshrine their national cultures. They merit that overused term “iconic.”
In London, the original national library dated to the eighteenth century, in Paris, to the fifteenth century. The new institutions, though relocated, have inherited their core collections. But in Alexandria, a great city before London or Paris existed, the legendary Hellenistic library disappeared some fifteen hundred years ago. Hence the new library, though it has by far the oldest tradition, has had to create its collection anew.
We can view these libraries as examples of a specialized form of urban architecture. The new British Library is situated on Euston Road, a busy thoroughfare north of Bloomsbury in a depressed neighborhood between two great railway stations, Euston and St. Pancras. Approached through an expansive courtyard, the imposing orange brick façade suggests a forbidding futurist factory, but also establishes a kinship with the mellow Victorian brickwork of nearby St. Pancras. Internally it is all sleek stainless steel, hardwood, and marble elegance, lofty spaces, and uncluttered floors. Instead of one vast circular reading room as in the old British Library, its eleven reading halls on three levels are devoted to different fields of study. The layout and traffic flow are inconvenient and inefficient in handling large numbers of readers.
The new Bibliothèque Nationale de France (commonly called the “BN” and formally titled Bibliothèque François Mitterand) is situated in a bleak neighborhood on the Left Bank of the Seine far from the center of Paris. Its four 25-store buildings, shaped in cross-section like bookends, stand at the corners of a seven-hundred-foot long, five-story deep sunken garden planted with evergreen trees. Eleven million books are housed in the towers, shuttered against the sun, and readers work in glass-walled sub-surface rooms looking out on the mini-forest. The oddity and awkwardness of this arrangement, resulting from a late change of plans, have been well publicized.
Alexandria, a sunnier site than London or Paris, has re-created its long-lost ancient library with the Mediterranean sun as its inspiration. The Bibliotheca Alexandrina (commonly called the “BA”) stands on the Corniche, the curving shoreline between a pristine sea and a cluttered city. At the nexus of Africa, Europe, and Asia, encompassing Muslim, Christian, Jewish. and secular traditions, it is the ultimate intercultural edifice. Its enormous circular roof of multifaceted glass and aluminum, set at 18 degrees from the horizontal, suggests a sunrise, a sundial, a computer chip. Rising from the past, it evokes the future.
It is not surprising that the heads of such prestigious institutions are at the very top of their profession. Lynne Brindley, Chief Executive of the British Library since 2000, is an information systems specialist trained at Oxford who has been librarian of the London School of Economics and of Leeds University. Bruno Racine, president of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France since 2007, is a cultivated technocrat who has been president of the French Academy in Rome and the Pompidou Center, a member of two cabinets, and foreign minister. The Bibliotheca Alexandrina is directed by Ismail Serageldin, a polymath who has been called “the most intelligent man in Egypt,” a Harvard Ph.D., economist with the World Bank, author of fifty books, and recipient of twenty-two honorary degrees. It remains to be seen how these immensely capable executives and their staffs will cope with the problems, large and small, of recent years.
If we look at generic problems of the libraries at the close of the first decade of operation, it’s apparent that many incipient issues are unresolved. Funding for all three libraries has never been quite sufficient to meet their expanding sense of mission. Space limits for the collections and readers differ. The British Library, through failure to acquire an adjacent property when it was available, is too often crowded and must store more and more books at another site. The French experience the same problems in a lesser degree, but they loom ahead. In Alexandria, the collection is still so small that space is abundant, but the number of readers and disruptive tour groups has grown steadily. All three libraries face one overarching question in the foreseeable future: how to balance their investment in books and documents against their investment in electronics and the internet—a subject worthy of future discussion.
Libraries are justified by having readers, but there can be too many. The British Library has increasingly suffered from its policy of making readers’ passes widely available—over 125,000 have been issued—in an effort to engage the public and democratize usage. But there are only 1,500 seats in the reading rooms. College students, all with cell phones, congregate, converse, and monopolize the computers and lunchrooms. Scholars have bitterly complained that their work is impeded by students who could use other libraries to do their homework. Lynne Brindley will have to navigate a fine course between the scholars and the public.
But the BN in Paris has more troubling worries—a scandal and a mystery. In 2004 it was discovered that twenty-five priceless manuscripts were missing, and the curator of Hebrew manuscripts, Michel Garel, was charged with the theft. He confessed to stealing only one manuscript, but later repudiated that confession. All this prompted a comprehensive inventory which revealed that no less than 30,000 books had vanished. Yet another search found that 1,183 documents were missing. The mystery deepened as stories circulated about dealers in London selling some of the stolen items, denials of these stories, and legal moves by library staff members further obscured the truth. Garel attributed his own vacillating behavior to strained relations with the library hierarchy, excuses were made all around; and security was, of course, tightened. No one seems to know what really happened or what can be done. This is the situation Bruno Racine inherited in 2007.
The past troubles of the Alexandria library are trifling in comparison to those it faces. Not expecting 800,000 visitors each year, the Norwegian designers did not make adequate provision for food service. The library’s belated response was to contract with six restaurant companies, one rumored to be McDonald’s. Outrage at the prospect of commercialization and vulgarization of Egypt’s “window on the world” festered, but a plan for a food court will nevertheless proceed—discreetly, and without McDonald’s. Ismail Serageldin may even deign to dine there.
As they gradually settle down to routine operations, we will gradually cease to regard these libraries as ambitious and troubled experiments and accept them as familiar features of their cities’ life. They must remain bastions of elite culture for scholars while they try to become centers of popular education. In only a few years they have become tourist attractions, something foreseeable from the time they were planned as grand enterprises, and this should be welcomed as one measure of their success.
It comes as no surprise that California State University Fullerton, along with every other California institution of public education, has been hit with drastic cuts this year. Some of the most visible reductions on the CSUF campus are at the Pollak Library. University Librarian, Richard Pollard, informed Patrons that the baseline budget has been reduced 15%, back to where it was in 1999. The cuts were distributed among personnel, materials, operating expenses and equipment. The total amount of reductions is over one million dollars, leaving a baseline budget of under six million dollars. Quite sadly, Pollard suspects there will be another reduction come January.
As the cost of books rapidly escalates, the means for purchasing books and periodicals, essential to a well-rounded college education, dwindle. Your continuing support through membership in Patrons of the Library is needed now more than ever. As our brochure states, “The primary purpose of the Patrons is the purchase of materials that lie beyond the scope of the state-funded budget.” At this time, far too much essential material is beyond the scope of the state-funded budget. We therefore urge your support through membership.
The Activities Committee, led by Lis Leyson and Howard Seller, has worked through the summer to schedule an excellent array of field trips and lectures. Lis and Howard will be offering details in another section of this newsletter. By the same token, Herb Rutemiller will be weighing in with the news about our Book Discussion Group, and Farron Brougher and Al Vogeler will bring us up to date on the Map Digitization Project. In addition, don’t miss the most current news about our Book Sale Center as reported by June Pollak. We are very proud to have Nancy Holmes represent us as Volunteer of the Year. Nancy has done a superb job of managing the Patrons’ web site while serving as our Membership Chair.
Should you have any suggestions for helping Patrons better serve the community, please let me know. My phone number is 714.870.4349.
Thanks so much,
BOOK SALE CENTER REPORT
With the start of the fall semester, the Patrons and Emeriti Book Sale Center has reopened, fully restocked. We sell used books, both from donations and excess volumes from the CSUF Library. Our very low prices of $1, $2, or $3 per book are set to help the CSUF students and others purchase books which are usually extremely expensive. All proceeds from sales are designated to purchase books for the Library, vitally important in this era of drastically reduced state funding. Our regular hours are 11 to 3 on Tuesdays, 11 to 7 on Wednesdays, and 1 to 5 on Thursdays. Please visit us regularly. We are open throughout the fall and spring terms, but not during intersession or summer.
As always, we need your donations to keep the shelves stocked in L 199. Please call Joy Lambert at 657.278.4055 or Lorraine Seelig at 657.278.8375 to make arrangements. If you are interested in joining the Patrons and Emeriti volunteers working in the Book Sale Center, please call June Pollak at 949.661.0463.
Please note that the area code for al CSUF departments has been changed to 657.
The Patrons extend a warm welcome to the 71 individuals who became new members this past academic year. This group is comprised of 32% alumni members, 51% basic members and 10% faculty/emeriti/staff. Despite this influx of new members, our membership rolls are down due in large part to a declining rate of renewal.The Patrons’ function as a support group for the Library is increasingly significant in these times of economic downturn and resultant budget reductions for the University. We hope you will maintain your membership and assist in this important role, thereby benefiting the University, its students and the community.
Please share information about our valuable organization with friends, family and colleagues. The lectures will be free this year and we urge you to join us for these interesting, stimulating offerings. Our website has a calendar of our events and information regarding our activities and outreach. It can be accessed from the Library web site: www.library.fullerton.edu, under Information, Patrons of the Library. Also, please feel free to contact me at 714.738.5590 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Howard Seller and Lis Leyson
This year’s special activities will begin with a field trip to the Chen Art Gallery in Torrance on Thursday, November 12, 2009. This art museum, which is housed inside the Sunrider International World Headquarters, displays the personal art collection of its founder, Dr. Tei Fu Chen. Among the hundreds of art objects on display are an impressive array of rare artifacts ranging from Neolithic era pottery to Ming and Qing dynasty imperial porcelains. We will travel to the gallery on a bus. After the tour we will have lunch. The Patrons and the Art Alliance are planning this trip together. Information about the time and place of departure and the cost (not including lunch) will be available in the near future.
Our lecture series for the coming year will differ somewhat from those of the past few years. Instead of following the three-lecture sequence in January, February, and March, we will schedule these events at other times during the year. ALL THE PRESENTATIONS WILL BE OPEN TO THE PUBLIC FREE OF CHARGE. The first lecture will be on Sunday, November 15, 2009 at 2:00 P.M. in Room 130, Pollak Library. Professor Irena Praitis, a member of the Department of English and Comparative Literature at CSUF, will honor the memory and poetic accomplishments of the late Joan Greenwood, who was a professor in that Department for many years. Dr. Praitis will discuss and read from the recent book that she edited of Joan Greenwood’s haiku. Copies of the book will be available for purchase at this event.
We hope you will join us for both of these activities. We are planning additional field trips and lectures for the spring and will provide details about those events in the next issue of The Patrons’ Post.
Patrons Book Discussion Group
We are in the tenth year for the Book Discussion Group, which meets on the fourth Thursday of each month 3-5 PM in the second floor conference room of Library South. We meet September-November and January-May. The format varies from month to month. For two consecutive months, one of the members assigns a book for everyone to read, then leads a discussion about it. In the third month, each person selects his/her own book and gives a brief (10-15 minute) report. Sometimes a theme for that month is chosen (e.g., travel, history, fiction, biography). Usually the choice is unrestricted. Here are some past "group read" selections:
John Adams by David McCullough
Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Garcia Marquez
The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger
Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman
The Control of Nature by John McPhee
Doubt by John Shanley
American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Women in Love by D.H. Lawrence
The group has continued to flourish, and we usually have about 12-14 attendees each month. If you attend and enjoy the group, we ask that you join Patrons of the Library after attending three times. The cost is $25 per year for CSUF faculty and emeriti, $30 for alumni, $50 otherwise.
For further information contact Herb Rutemiller at 714.528.4475 or 714.278.5413, email email@example.com.
The Student Book Collection Contest
California State University, Fullerton
By Gordon J. Van De Water
The Patrons annual Student Book Collection Contest proved to be an exciting and rewarding event. The contest was open to both undergraduate and graduate students who have collections of twenty-five or more items that cohere around a common theme.
Titles that students collect are many and quite diverse. We have had collectors who have shown passion for history, science fiction, foreign languages, and literature. With great satisfaction and rapt attention our volunteer judges have listened as the young collectors described not only the content of the books they assembled, but showed a touching degree of fondness toward these bound up pieces of printed paper. This high regard or even affection is perhaps a major indicator of the life-long book collector. The famous words that Thomas Jefferson wrote to John Adams—“I cannot live without books”—were echoed by these student collectors, many of whom showed early signs of incurable bibliomania.
Looking for a relevant selection from my own collection of books about books, I came across Irving Browne’s In the Track of the Bookworm, printed in 1897, a narrative of his book- collecting passion. The following abbreviated account of what he wrote gives insight into why a select group of students even in today’s age of the www and ever-present blogs continues in the track of a bookworm:
“What has not the animal Man collected? Clocks, fans, precious stones, coins, buttons, tea-pots, and autographs, these are some of the most prominent subjects in search of which the animal Man runs up and down the earth, and spends time and money without scruple or stint. But all these curious objects of search fall into insignificance when compared with the ancient, noble and useful passion for collecting books. One of the wisest of the human race said, the only earthly immortality is in writing a book; and the desire to accumulate these evidences of earthly immortality needs no defense among cultivated men.”
Boswell Map Digitization Project
By Farron D. Brougher
The catalog is searchable online, although work continues on photo editing and linking images to text records. Finding the collection is as easy as typing “Boswell map collection” in your favorite search engine.Our experience shows that map cataloging to professional standards is time-consuming, as is the post-production photography (Photoshop). We learned that map images for web publication can be produced with simple amateur photography equipment and techniques. One of our goals in publicizing the project will be to encourage other institutions and individuals with significant collections and limited resources to follow our example.
The “construction” phase of the project will be completed by the spring of 2010, nearly five and a half years after the project began. The thousands of hours of work by the project team—jointly funded by the Library and Patrons—assure that the once hidden treasures of the Boswell Collection will be available to anyone with internet access.