Remarks at the Rededication of the Ryan-Matura Library, Nov. 2, 2011

First, on behalf of the entire library staff I wish to thank all those in the University and in the construction trades which made this day possible.  What a pleasure it was to work with Marc Izzo and Scott Rowland in particular.  I also want to extend my personal special thanks to Patrick Rose, our architect, who patiently listened to explanations of why the library needed one feature or another, and insights from our regular observation of how library users actually use the library.

I also wish to recognize the good work of Amanda Timolat, our Archivist, and Emily Underwood, her student library assistant, in creating the display behind the glass wall at the rear of the Chartwell's Starbucks Library Cafe.

As you may have read, or heard here today, this library was dedicated on September 28, 1968 and re-dedicated as the Ryan-Matura Library on September 11, 1993.  I want to take a moment to recall the first event, in 1968.  The speaker that day was Philip J. Scharper, and the guest of honor was our founder, the Most Reverend Walter Curtis, Bishop of Bridgeport. 

Mr. Scharper was a very active Catholic writer and publisher.  Trained at Woodstock Theological Seminary, a protégé of John Courtney Murray, he never entered the priesthood but instead taught briefly before he became associate editor of Commonweal magazine in 1955.  He was specially consulted by the Second Vatican Council on the Catholic Church’s role in the modern world.  From 1957 to 1970 he was editor in chief at Sheed & Ward before he co-founded Orbis Books in 1970.  Three years later, he edited and published Gustavo Gutierrez’ famous book A Theology of Liberation.  Mr. Scharper remained at Orbis until his death in 1985.

On that day in September 1968 Scharper held up in particular a phrase from the British writer Thomas Carlyle, that “the library is the beating heart of the University.” In 1968 that was a brave hope, as the young University was still coming together, but Scharper connected what this library represented then with the broad intellectual tradition of the Church and in particular the tradition of the love of learning and the desire for God lived out in the Benedictine tradition.  He concluded that the library is not only to be the beating heart of a community of learning, but of a community of love.

Scharper, following Carlyle before him, was attempting to give real life to a phrase that sometimes can become a tired academic cliché, that the library is the heart of the University.  Since 1968 many things in universities have changed, and I am so bold as to suggest that that familiar phrase needs to be re-positioned.   Many of the elements of this University –food service, athletic facilities, public safety officers, library, even the Chapel –could and do exist in other contexts without a University.  For example, the Town of Fairfield has a vibrant and thriving library.  

The real heart of the University is in the daily interaction of teachers and learners.  Without a faculty and without students, together, we don’t have a University.  Those teachers and learners –both faculty and students are teachers and learners in different ways—need a variety of contexts and settings to pursue their work: classrooms, laboratories, overseas locations, offices, clinics, field work, and even a library.

The library is part of the beating heart of the university—that contact of learners and teachers—when it truly enacts and exemplifies part of the University’s mission.  This is the truth that shines through this renovation, and how it shines through can be seen in library architecture. 

The original 19th-century modern academic library buildings were reader-oriented: books in the service of readers.  Large windows illuminated alcoves and bays with natural light for reading; the monastic tradition was strong in these buildings, whether James Gamble Roger’s Gothic Revival Sterling Memorial Library at Yale, or McKim, Mead and White’s Beaux-Arts Low Library at Columbia University.  These libraries featured large ceremonial entry spaces that usher a reader into an immediate connection with books.

But the tidal wave of publishing and new books in the 20th century required a new paradigm, the book-centered library.  Butler Library at Columbia University exemplifies this: a steel-framed structure of 18 levels of central stacks are surrounded by offices and seminar rooms with a ceremonial main reading room on the front end.  Essentially the book-oriented library is a warehouse, one hopes an elegant warehouse, and these buildings were progressively enlarged not to accommodate additional readers or services, but additional collections.

The original modular design of this library, designed by Val Carlson of Shelton, followed the book-centered paradigm of library design: a maximum of flexible space for a growing collection, designed to be expanded back into what is now the parking lot as necessary.  Over the decades, areas of this building have been re-purposed so many times that it is difficult to envision what this library was originally intended to be.  In any case, the advent of information technology began to put and end to book-centered library design by the 1990s.

This renovation represents a third paradigm of library design, the learning-centered library.  These spaces have been re-designed to host and facilitate learning interactions in many ways: group interaction, individual study, interaction with digital collections far away from this building, and especially interactions with every member of the library staff.  Some people look at this library and see a building, others see a collection, but I see people: students, librarians, faculty, and how they interact.  This is a learning-centered library, and all our librarians are educators in the context of the University. 

Above all, the learner here is meant to take responsibility for her or his own learning.  There is no one moment when this happens, but it happens whenever study becomes learning: how history majors become historians, how biology majors become biologists.  This library is a set of spaces, resources, and above all people that foster effective intentional learning.  We are a teaching and learning enterprise, and we join our student and faculty colleagues here as collaborators enacting the learning mission of this University.  The goal of self-directed learning is meant to become a reality here.