Days-and a Few Nights-in the Library: A Reminiscence, Review, and Look Forward
By Myron J. ("Jack") Smith, Jr.
The day I was asked to write this piece, I had just returned from my ump-teenth visit to the construction site of the soon-to-be-reborn College library. Each time I have visited the renovation, I have come away more enthused than ever about what this new building will mean to the Tusculum community, not only from its increased physical size, but programmatically. It has been two and a half years since our support service became Tate Library, now doing business as the Pioneer Library. Despite the conviviality of our temporary Niswonger Commons home, the new building has daily beckoned to my colleagues and myself. We, like everyone affiliated with TC, yearn for the opportunity to begin anew from this handsome repository. Like almost everyone who has been a part of this institution since it first affiliated with SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools) in 1927, the dream of a new library has been a constant.
Although I have not been here as long as several faculty, staff, and library colleagues, I can remember with those veterans, and with some of you, how it was when my tenure began in July 1990. That summer the College was enthusiastically planning and working to move forward again after a period of severe decline. True, several buildings were boarded up and operational budgets were quite tight, but public optimism regarding the future was manifest everywhere. Despite all that may have gone wrong in the previous decade, no one believed TC was doomed.
Still, in the month or so before faculty and students returned that year, the campus was largely deserted, except for its staff. It was so quiet that about all one could see out the library windows were dozens of squirrels entertaining themselves under the oaks. All that could be heard was a seemingly endless parade of different lawnmower types mowing grass as part of a test program sponsored by John Deere. There was a surplus of parking spaces every day, and after 5 p.m. and on weekends, it was rare to see another human face save that of then-security chief Ken Verran.
I knew no one in Tennessee when I arrived from West Virginia. My wife, Dennie, remained behind to sell our house and so I was alone here to work, explore our new home area, and find a place to live. Kindly saving me the expense of living in a motel, then-President Dr. Robert Knott permitted me to temporarily move into any empty dorm space of my choice for several weeks while I searched. I could choose between Katherine or Virginia (not yet renovated into a classroom building at that time); unhappily, the two guest rooms in COG could not be booked. I chose Katherine Hall, and during my initial three weeks of employment, no one else resided in the building. Then the band campers and soccer players simultaneously arrived the Monday after Saddam invaded Kuwait, each group seemingly more determined than the other to have good times and to play their boomboxes louder than the
thers into the late night hours. Fortunately, by then I had arranged to purchase my present home from Tony Narkawicz, but there was a slight delay before I could move in.
Not yet having received my first pay check, in need of some rest for the week and a half before moving out Newmansville way, and having decided after a couple of unpeaceful nights that I could no longer remain with the largely-unsupervised campers, I elected to maintain my Katherine room for day use and to bunk out nights on one of the extremely comfortable sofas in the reading room of the library. If any of you, maybe from work-study days, remember being in the old library (before it was spruced up into Tate Library in 1991) at closing time and walking out after the lights were turned off, you know how dark and eerie the library and lawns surrounding it were. As the only person ever to purposefully spend a whole night in the place (actually, it was about six nights, plus two blizzard nights later in the early 1990s), I am here to tell you it really was spooky as all get-out. The oak trees cast weird shadows through the big old glass windows, the pipes creaked even in the summer time, the building seemed to groan, and there were a variety of other strange sounds. The spirit of a long-passed predecessor popping up like Marley's Ghost in A Christmas Carol would not have been a surprise. Needless to say, I survived those few evening, but my recollections of those library nights remain.
During my visits to the construction site in the last year or so, I have often mentally attempted to refine the
programatic functionality of the top two floors of the new and rebuilt library wings where the collections and staff will be located. I have taken the opportunity to go over at every time of day and on at least one different day of the week ever since ground was broken. I was in the area of the new reference desk below the running track in the rebuilt reading room (which we will call the Information Commons) toward nightfall on one recent occasion. Yes, even at that time before blackness there were shadows and a number of strange sounds beyond those occasioned by the builders. At that point, I had something of a sense of déjà vu. If I had more deeply fantasized during the moment, it might have been possible to imagine reviewing the story of our library's growth with some of my 21 predecessors, none of whom, save the last, I ever knew. How would our renewed and immense building and its anticipated operations be an improvement from their time or, indeed, from ours 10-15 years back?
As most readers know, the facility our new building subsumes was originally constructed as a multi-purpose edifice in 1910 with money sent down from Pittsburgh by Andrew Carnegie. It had a gym, basketball court, the famed running track, a tin ceiling (now nicely preserved), two rooms for the library books on the upstairs front side where the faculty lounge and study rooms are going, offices, meeting rooms-and hitching posts. Elma Lillian Rankin was our librarian at the time and her book stacks held the Coffin Collection of early college books (some of which were delivered years before in saddlebags on horses coming over the mountains) and a few thousand works dating from the 1870s. In 1919, her book budget, made up entirely from special gift funds with no college appropriations, totaled $500; when she left in 1921, her usable collection totaled about 7,000 volumes and a handful of journals and newspapers.
Edith A. McCallum was librarian from 1922 to 1936 and it was during her years that SACS first became a factor in Tusculum College planning. A year after that accreditation body was joined, the Pioneer gymnasium was opened (how ironic that the library moved there, abeit temporarily, in December 2002) in order to allow the physical size of library space to grow within the Carnegie complex. Working with Presidents Charles Oliver Gray and Charles A. Anderson, McCallum saw her collection reach 12,000 book and 75 periodical titles by 1932. By the end of that decade, the collection stood at about 16,000 volumes and more than 150 magazine subscriptions.
Margory H. Drake, MA/MSLS, was the first masters-degreed librarian employed by the institution; she served from 1936 to 1943 and was followed by an MALS, Theresa Gillett, from 1944 to 1946. With the exception of a two-year appointment for Herbert F. Ingle in 1962-1963, these two were the only MLS/ MALS librarians employed by TC for nearly two decades. Mr. Ingle was the first librarian appointed to the ranks of the College faculty; all MLS/MALS librarians employed since have received such appointments.
Other MLS library directors serving the institution have included Dorothy Denman, 1965-1967, Michael Keresztesi, 1968-1969, and myself.
In all of these years, library resources grew modestly and much of that was gift dependent. Even as late as 1997, only 9% of our total collection comprised titles published after 1980. Electronics-in the form of two phonographs and some 200 albums-came in the 1940s and by the middle 1960s, the various other functions entertained within the building, including the last academic faculty offices, had departed. Still, by 1961, sufficient books and periodicals were on hand as to require that the institution construct a concrete stack addition jutting out from the west side of the library building.
My immediate predecessor, Mrs. Cleo Treadway, joined the faculty in 1970 and remained for two extremely productive decades. She set an achievement standard that, in so far as I can tell, exceeded that of most of her many forerunners, and which has served as a challenge to me. Working with extremely limited funding and staff, she was able to see the library collection reclassified from Dewey to LC and to institute a strong, though not universal, program of bibliographic instruction. With help from community volunteers, the Margaret Johnson Patterson Bartlett Collection of Andrew Johnson materials was accommodated and organized; these materials, together with the Coffin Collection and College archives, were transferred to the Andrew Johnson Presidential Library and Museum when it opened in 1993. In the 1980s when the campus was still wed to a mainframe computer, Treadway had the foresight to bring in the library's first 286 PCs and eventually to set up a three-machine network with two CD-ROM products. Additionally, it was she, working with Carolyn Parker (who is still on staff), who introduced TC's first automated library system. BIBBASE, as that DOS-based program was known, permitted books and other materials to be cataloged in the machine-readable MARC format necessary for the conversion of the paper card catalog into an on-line electronic catalog. The conversion was completed by 1999. BIBBASE remained in service with us until 2003.
The progress outlined above was secondary to the dedicated services provided to students and faculty over the years since the 1920s. Hours, due to staffing, were not long (in 1990, the library still closed for lunch and dinner and did not remain open past 9:30 p.m.). The entire operating budget did not reach $75,000 until 1990 and the MLS/paraprofessional staff combined did not exceed four until 1994. Still, the library consistently won accolades from all for the help it offered to every visitor. During the decades from 1930 to 1990, Tusculum College was several times visited by SACs representatives. After lauding the library's staff and programming, the section of their reports devoted to the facility almost always had the same two recommendations: "buy more books" and "build a new building."
It is not my practice to publicly enumerate any accomplishments which may have been made under my tenure. However, I am pleased to say that the College library has continued the tradition of service so well initiated at the beginning of the last century. Through the help of many friends (including Mrs. Edna Tate Smith in 1991) and the foresight of astute College leadership, it has grown materially and programmatically, especially in the areas of electronics and distance learning activities, and is poised to enhance all that we offer within and without the walls of the reborn library.
Looking forward to occupancy of the new library facility, it would be possible to suggest to those who filled my shoes before and to you that great changes are afoot. Many thousands of square feet larger than its predecessor, the tastefully outfitted new building will, for the first time, permit its users (be they staff or patrons) to experience a sense of space. Space to feel and anticipate the grandeur of learning, to gaze out upon the campus to the mountains beyond-or, in some instances, enough space simply not to bump into things as was so often the case in the tiny, cramped library quarters of the last century. There will be space to grow the print book collection in an orderly fashion in two major contiguous locations, the third floor circulating stacks and the main floor Information Commons (old reading room) area. Shelving on the third floor will also well accommodate our Special Collections, childrens literature, oversize books, and the Hobbie Collection. A full-blown technical services office on the west side of the Information Commons will permit materials to arrive from the loading dock below and to be efficiently prepared for their appropriate public locations. No longer will we have to tuck print titles in every nook and cranny either as they await cataloging or once they go to the stacks. Offices for library faculty are grouped together on the east side of the Information Commons, allowing their occupants easy conference and permitting the smooth provision and coordination of administration, distance learning, and all technical and public service responsibilities.
There will also be space for quiet study in under-window carrels, in small rooms, or in clusters of comfy seating. Increased space will permit all of our current print journals and newspapers to be fully displayed and useable. Study tables and 24 public access PCs, twice as many as we had in old Tate or Pioneer Library, will stand on the new carpeting of the Information Commons. Please rest assured that, about an inch below that cover, the 1910 basketball floor remains. The huge wooden staircase in the northeast corner of the Information Commons continues as a gateway to the refurbished running track, which will showcase an art gallery. A grand main staircase flows up and down off the spacious lobby, over which a massive Circulation desk will preside, while security gates will aid civility. Perhaps conveying the greatest sense of space for all who knew the pre-2002 library will be two modern restrooms on the main floor (there are also new restrooms on the first and third floors). They replace the unmourned dimly-lighted 4x4 exit washrooms of old.
Space is also important in the reborn library from a pedagogical point of view. For the first time, the library will have a dedicated Information Literacy instruction room (located to the west of the main floor periodical reading room adjacent to the great south window). Here students, faculty, and librarians using state-of-the-art electronics will be able to engage in team research and library learning to a degree simply not possible in old Tate or in Pioneer Library. The individual study rooms and a faculty lounge on the third floor will also be technologically equipped while users will be able to employ their laptops from locations throughout the facility. On the main floor, theInformation Commons will offer reference service to users from its new regularly-manned Reference Desk while personnel at the Circulation Desk, using a module of our new automated system, will smoothly assist all patrons in checking out materials with their bar-coded borrowers cards. They will also help visitors by obtaining required reserves or videos, with photocopying, and answering all general information queries. Tours will be available and the sense of space visitors experience will only be equaled by a sense of light, from the various sized windows, from direct and indirect fixtures, and from massive chandeliers.
The new library will be bigger, quite handsome, and better equipped than any academic facility Tusculum College has ever had. It will house many additional materials, employ state-of-the-art electronics, and permit a greater number of services than was ever possible before. The building will allow the institution to explore more and newer avenues of academic enterprise and library pedagogy than could be contemplated in years past, offering all who enter the opportunity to be cloaked in a lifelong garment of skilled and motivated learning. Tusculum College will be a stronger institution the day the main door of the reborn library opens to the public.
Still, as confident as I am in all of these observations, there is one other of which I have an even stronger sense. Regardless of circumstance or weather, no one should ever plan to spend a night in the new building alone after the lights have been turned off. If small and empty was spooky, just think about big and empty.
List of Tusculum College Librarians & Library Directors 1900-2005
1 - A total of 22 librarians or library directors have been responsible for the Tusculum College library since 1900. These folks, with years of service, are listed here for the first time. If anyone reading this is or knows or knew any of these individuals, I would very much appreciate hearing from you.
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