Rush Rhees Library: University of Rochester

Yesterday I had occasion to return to my alma mater, the University of Rochester, for a presentation on the nature of memory consolidation and reconsolidation. The talk was fascinating, but not the focus of this post. I took advantage of the day to take some photos of the campus, which has changed a lot since I attended there. This facade, though, is just the same.

The Rush Rhees Library is the anchor for the main quadrangle at the University’s River campus and the academic heart of the school. This building was built in 1930, and although it has been expanded several times and is fully updated internally, this view hasn’t changed since then. The library is a wonderful example of how tradition and innovation are blended at the U of R.

What you can’t read in this photo are two inscriptions carved into the stone on either side of the doors, behind the stone urns.

HERE IS THE HISTORY
OF HUMAN IGNORANCE
ERROR SUPERSTITION
FOLLY WAR AND WASTE
RECORDED BY HUMAN
INTELLIGENCE FOR THE
ADMONITION OF WISER
AGES STILL TO COME

HERE IS THE HISTORY
OF MANS HUNGER FOR
TRUTH GOODNESS AND
BEAUTY LEADING HIM
SLOWLY ON THROUGH
FLESH TO SPIRIT FROM
BONDAGE TO FREEDOM
FROM WAR TO PEACE

As a shiny new freshman in the 1970s, I found those words deeply inspiring. They still move me today. They embody the spirit of education, writ large: remembering, understanding, and learning from the mistakes of the past, and using them to climb, slowly and sometimes painfully, into a better future. There is a clear-eyed and honest view of how many things we get wrong and how hard it will be to get it all right. There is also a determination that this journey is worth the effort. I also got a sense that I, one scholar just starting on this journey, could be a small part of this mighty task.

I credit my education at the University of Rochester with giving me a firm grounding in scholarly inquiry and setting me off on a life of learning and teaching. It awakened me to a life of the mind that I cherish.

Posted in response to the WordPress photo challenge: Awakening

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Inform, Inspire, Engage

The title of this post comes from the U.S. Library of Congress, the largest library in the world, in its description of what their collections do. My local library is nothing compared to this, but it is still important to me because it, too, does its part to inform, inspire, and engage. My photo this week is a glimpse of the nonfiction section in this library, a place where human knowledge is organized according to the Dewey decimal system, designed to be flexible enough to identify an unambiguous shelf location for books on everything from 000 (computer science) to 999 (extraterrestrial worlds).I love that the inherent complexity of human knowledge can be so structured, enabling anyone to find whatever they are looking for. Thank you, Melvil Dewey.

Posted in response to the WordPress photo challenge: Order

 

My Library Home

library

The Henrietta Public Library in Henrietta, NY, is my home library. They don’t know this, because I live in a different town so when I log into the system it keeps linking me up to that other library. However, I rarely go to the library in my actual town. For one thing it’s not as convenient, because the Henrietta library is closer to where I work and has better parking. Mainly, though, the Henrietta library is more likely to carry the books I’m looking for (they have a much better collection of science fiction and fantasy, for instance). They also do a terrific job with customer service, which hasn’t always been true in the library closer to home. So when people ask me about my local library, I tell them about Henrietta.

Even beyond which library is my local library, though, there’s the larger issue of picking a library as my home place. I don’t have young children, so I never took part in most of the community events that this library has to offer (and there are a lot of them). I don’t go to their movie nights or take part in their craft events for adults. I go there for the books.

I’m a book person; my husband built me a compact library with roll-out shelves to fit all my paperbacks into a closet. The only rooms in my house that don’t hold books are the fancy dining room and some (not all) of the bathrooms. But it’s not enough! I never have fewer than two or three books checked out at a time, and it’s been as high as a dozen. Libraries feed my book habit.

I love what libraries mean to me. Even more, I love what they mean to others in my community. People who can’t afford to buy books, or have no home to keep them in. People who don’t have Internet access. People who need tax forms or voter registration forms. In the words of T. S. Eliot: “The very existence of libraries affords the best evidence that we may yet have hope for the future of man.”