Dartmouth College Library Bulletin

The Berry-Baker Library:
'The Future Is Not What It Used To Be'


Construction on the new Berry-Baker Library will begin shortly. From the beginning it has been clear to those involved in planning the project that the new Library should not merely extend or multiply the rooms and existing functions of Baker; rather it was important to recognize that the College had been offered an unusual opportunity to think anew about the role of the Library in the academic life of the community. In 1928 the new Baker Library was placed at the center point of the campus and made the prominent architectural feature of the Green; the future roles that Baker-Berry Library will play in the intellectual life of the institution should be worthy of that central position.

Baker Library attracts those who live and work around the Hanover Green not only because it symbolizes the Library collection so vital for the community, but also because it is an impressive visual anchor for all the buildings that surround it. In fact, the whole configuration of the Green is familiar to most of us because it reflects very old city planning. Since this form is most prominent in architecture from Roman imperial cities, let me call it the 'piazza paradigm.'

The basic shape is seen clearly at Pompeii, a city preserved as it was on that day in 79 CE when the neighboring volcano of Vesuvius erupted. The region was buried in volcanic ash-people, animals, buildings, streets, and squares; once excavations began in 1763, the outlines of old Pompeii-uncomplicated by later additions and adaptations-were open for all to see. And how familiar much of it feels-especially the city center, the town Forum.

The Forum at Pompeii is defined by the rectangular colonnade running along three sides. On these three sides there were several different styles of structures linked by the continuous portico, but at the north end, intruding into the Forum's space and raised on a high podium, is the focusing element for the space, the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, 'the best and the greatest,' the ruling god of the Roman pantheon.

Artist's reconstruction of Pompeii.

This architectural configuration, the piazza paradigm, is not unique to Pompeii, but is a basic element in the design of the Roman city as well as a cultural imprint that we and western Europe have inherited from the days of the Roman Empire.

The Lawn. University Publications, University of Virginia.

This heritage is immediately evident to anyone who walks along the Lawn at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, the center of Thomas Jefferson's 'academical village.' Along the sides is a continuous colonnade joining cottages of different design in which both faculty and students have lived. That colonnade brings the collection of sixteen buildings-ten 'pavilions' and six 'hotels'-into a single unit for the eye and focuses attention on its village quality. At the head of the Lawn (in the focal position of the Temple of Jupiter in Pompeii) sits a Jeffersonian masterpiece, the Rotunda. This is the grand official building of the complex; originally it housed the offices of the university, had official dining rooms, and was used for receptions of distinguished visitors. This was where the 'villagers' gathered when the community acted as a unit rather than a group of individuals. The outline of this area is clear when seen from the air: long side arcades linking buildings with individual purposes centered on a focusing lawn and all limited at its north end by the Rotunda, the expression of the united community's purpose.[1] The University of Virginia's Lawn is an elegant, formal expression of a university village. The parallel to Pompeii has become even more evident in recent years. I have just returned from Italy and can report that in 1995 the Forum in Pompeii has been covered with sod, effectively transforming the old civic center into a 'Lawn' or 'Green.'

An equally striking example of the paradigm is found in Hanover where the Green has been designed as a large rectangular space at the center of a small village. Around the Green are the official buildings of the institution-its administration, its centers of student and faculty life, buildings for instruction, an inn, and the arts center. But at the north end, in the premier position reserved for the Temple of Jupiter and the Rotunda, sits Baker Library. It is the building that we have chosen to express the most central and dominating concern of an academic society; Baker Library is our academic society's high god.

Baker Library under construction, ca. 1926.

This architectural insight may seem to shed only a bit of additional glamour on Baker Library, but it is my hope that the significance assigned to Baker by the planners of the campus in 1928 has been maintained and extended in the adaptation of this old Library to future Dartmouth life. The new Berry-Baker Library will continue to maintain its collection, build information resources, and provide access to a wide variety of users-but the impact of technology will extend the role of the librarian into previously unfamiliar areas. In discussing such a topic it is important to leave all preconceptions and stereotypes behind. No longer should all of us look back to our own experiences with various libraries of the past:

  • The library was seen as a crypt where tortured students were compelled to labor through tomes of old and out-of-date wisdom to satisfy some cranky teacher who was getting overdue revenge for the horrors of his or her graduate school years;
  • Many of us can recall that you could wander through rooms large and small at any hour of the day observing slumped readers who found in the library an instant cure for insomnia;
  • We all remember that Meredith Willson, in The Music Man, gave us the highly proper and uptight Marian the Librarian;
  • Worst yet, all of us probably had a run-in with an overprotective, self-important person, THE librarian; I remember in high school the gorgon-faced woman who ran-and I mean ran-the library. She disliked students, she never read books, she was even allergic to dust-but she kept those catalog cards in order and her record at collecting fines would make the IRS blush.

A little thought brings the realization that the library in Western civilization-from the Library at Alexandria, through the monastic libraries that preserved learning through the darkest days of the Dark Ages, through the great modern libraries begun in Italy by Lorenzo de' Medici and the Vatican, in France by Cardinal Richelieu, and in England at early centers of learning-has been our most trustworthy and vital tie to the broader world of experience and knowledge. Such a realization raises a blunt question: What alternative means does Dartmouth College-the voice in the wilderness-have to maintain its educational program and customary academic standards without the constant flow of accurate information made readily available through the Library?

The more difficult the answer to such a question seems, the more satisfying was the news in November 1992 that John W. Berry 1944, his son George W. Berry 1966, and George F. Baker III, the great-grandson of the original donor of Dartmouth's main Library, had joined to present the biggest gift in the College's history for the expansion and improvement of Baker Library. This gift has earned the full support and, indeed, thankful appreciation of the faculty, since there probably is no building that is more important to the successful functioning of the College than Baker. This sentiment is echoed by undergraduates and graduate students. The Library is the one place where the interests of all members of the Hanover population-faculty, students, administration, and community members-cohere the most closely.[2]

In fact, the library has been marked as a sanctioned item in institutional thinking over the years. Most noticeably, when the first awareness of the recent budgetary problems that were to impact most academic institutions began to ripple through our administration, it was immediately agreed that budgets would have to be cut-but the library has always been vigorously supported because it is central to the educational mission of the College.

What does one do in today's library? In fact, this Library and its staff are practically unrecognizable to students of ten years ago. In today's Baker, there are books and journals, but no longer an up-to-date card catalog. The catalog is now computerized, and information-lots more useful information-about those books is instantly available. Each book is bar-coded, and the location of that book is instantly available. The Library can tell you what books you have signed out and notify you immediately when a book is returned by another borrower. The full catalog is available on computer screen in my office and in every student's room-and we all can discover whether a book is on the shelf or checked out without a trip to Baker. There was even talk that we were now so electronically organized that when a borrower signed out a book, his or her record would be searched for unpaid fines, and if one were found, bells would ring, the exit door would freeze, lights would flash, and the borrower would have to report to the appropriate dean; but that sounded too much like life in the Gulag. Encyclopedias and dictionaries-The Oxford English Dictionary and The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, for example-are available in computerized format; all information is processible and thus available for searches and cross-referencing. The College is building concordance resources that enable searches for single words in several languages; these concordances contain all authors in a language. Current projects are Greek and Latin, soon to be followed by others. Through such computer listings one can often enhance the old-style research method of browsing through a shelf of titles. My book Musical Design in Aeschylean Drama was cataloged by the Library of Congress as a music book and is located in the Paddock Music Library in Hopkins Center. But this is no problem; the computer will find it where it belongs for anyone browsing electronically under any of a series of topics: Aeschylus, Greek chorus or drama, or, of course, music. It is of great importance that this electronic catalog is accessible twenty-four hours a day. Best of all, very expensive books and hard-to-find periodicals can be located within the network of the major research libraries in this country, in western Europe, and throughout the world through the computer; often, research material can be sent electronically to Hanover.

The modern, electronic, state-of-the-art Baker Library is where we store our record of the past-and modern, electronically-driven library science is the skill that enables librarians to locate the right information quickly, to produce lists or references leading to wide and deep searches, to obtain material easily from throughout the United States and western Europe, and to keep track of books and documents here and elsewhere so that they can be made available to the community of users. Libraries used to be defined by the books in stacks behind the desk; new libraries are more known for what goes on at the various desks in terms of maintaining, correlating, retrieving, and accessing information. The Library's catalog is open all day and night in each student's room, in each professor's office, and in every significant research library in the United States.

It used to be said that the key element in a university was the faculty. You could have a university without students, without sports, without social organizations, and without an administration--but not without a faculty. That statement must now be expanded. You must have a faculty and a library. Knowledge has exploded so exponentially that few of us now claim to know our fields in the way Victorian scholars did; rather we now know how to work in our fields. We know how to gather the data (that's the library's role), how to formulate theories (that's the faculty's role), how to balance one theory against others (that's both the faculty's and library's role)-and then we teach and publish our results. This process could not go on without the resources made available through the library.

And the students, graduate and undergraduate, are equal sharers in the library. Research work-the combination of reading, theorizing, and publishing-is education's most significant mentoring activity. Just as the faculty does its work, students at their appropriate levels master a body of material, make judgments, and defend their judgments in discussions, in papers, and finally in theses. Obviously the library becomes the prime source of information; thus at Dartmouth it has been an institutional priority that the catalog be on the campus computer network and available in each faculty member's office and in each student's room.

In May 1995 The Task Force for The Library of the 21st Century released its report describing the library needs of the College, which we hope will be met in the new combined Berry and Baker Libraries. The Task Force stated in its Executive Summary:

The report of the Task Force describes the institutional setting of Dartmouth College as a 'village culture' in which members of the community value close interaction with one another, and in which the libraries emphasize personalized services designed to meet individual needs. In addition, the libraries have a high standard of electronic services, reach a range of users, and support a changing curriculum. Baker Library serves as a crossroads of the campus, both literally and figuratively. Given these realities, the Task Force report outlines the following basic design goals that are essential in the future direction for the new Berry Library:

  • The new Berry Library must be planned in coordination with the renovation of Baker Library so that Dartmouth can develop two integrated and functional buildings that serve as a crossroads of the campus;
  • The design of Berry Library must share the spirit and complement the style of Baker Library as well as presenting an appropriate facade in the new north quadrangle;
  • Space within the Berry Library must provide for user education in a range of print and electronic information formats;
  • The design of Berry Library must allow for and enable the expansion of cooperation between the library staff and the computing services staff.

In order to realize these basic goals, the Task Force recommends a number of specific design features in the new Berry facility and the renovated Baker Library. Chief among these are:

  • The libraries must include spaces that are appropriate for various types of study, learning, and research;
  • Library space in Berry and Baker must be designed with maximum flexibility in order to permit easy adjustment to emerging technology as well as changes in staff organization;
  • Resources for information technology should be spread throughout the building and made available to all users;
  • The libraries must include facilities designed to teach users about existing technological resources as well as for developing new uses for these resources;
  • The libraries must contain efficient and pleasant work spaces for the staff.[3]

The library is our most firm guarantee of academic freedom. The library is democratic, open to all, a sign of the institution's integrity. With such a collection no arbitrariness should exist. First-year students who can defend their conclusions on the basis of the information available in the library can confront and confound the learned princes of academe-and we make sure that all students in their first year are instructed in the use of the Library and its collections. No Dartmouth assistant professor can feel isolated, or cut off from significant collections, or deprived of any chance to make his scholarly case for tenure. No Dartmouth professor can find the available resources so limited that he or she cannot publish and be judged against the best-especially when Baker Library's resources are in faculty offices. President Freedman is so well aware of the central role of the Library that he has often quoted that wonderfully empowering line in Shakespeare's The Tempest (1.2.109): Prospero's library is a 'dukedom large enough.' In the library we are all made equal, talent and hard work shows, arbitrariness vanishes, and knowledge progresses. The library is both the faculty's and the students' center.

Let me close with one fascinating fact. I have stated that Baker Library is our guarantor of intellectual freedom. Not everyone realizes that Baker Tower's design was modeled on the tower of Philadelphia's Independence Hall: A wonderful mark of the liberating, freeing, democratic role of the library in an academic society. The planners of the new Berry-Baker Library are hard at work to see that its architectural design will continue to express the central position of the Library in Dartmouth's flourishing academic community.

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[1] See Pendleton Hogan, The Lawn: A Guide to Jefferson's University (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1987), and numerous other books.

[2] The Dartmouth College Library comprises these specialized units:
Baker Library (Humanities [except Art History, Music, and Studio Art] and Social Sciences)
Cook Library (Mathematics and Computer Science)
Dana Library (Biomedical Sciences)
Feldberg Library (Business and Engineering)
Kresge Library (Physical Sciences)
Matthews-Fuller Library (Health Sciences)
Paddock Library (Music)
Sanborn Library (English)
Sherman Library (Art History and Studio Art)
Special Collections (Archives, Manuscripts, and Rare Books)
Storage Library (infrequently-used materials)

[3] Dartmouth College, Task Force on the Library of the 21st Century, Report of the Task Force on the Library of the 21st Century : The Berry and Baker Libraries (Hanover: Dartmouth College, 1995), 1-2. The report is also available on the Web at /~library/BerryBaker/task.html.

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DCLB--A98--Scott 1.3