Why Libraries Still Matter
Such is the racket and pace of our culture, which incessantly demands that we grab that train for all we’re worth, lest we miss out on something, lose something, forget to do something. In a world driven so relentlessly by technology, an institution as stationary, as stolid and, well, as bookish as a library seems almost quaint, a place that’s hopelessly outdated with its emphasis on quiet, solitude and a profound lack of iStuff. Why invest time, money and effort on such an archaic thing?
I think the answer is that because the older we get in life the more we learn that it is precisely these qualities that we need to lead lives of balance and richness. Access to a little peace and quiet is as essential to a humane society as access to nature and art. Without it, we lose some element of the interior dialogue that’s needed to nurture ideas and possibilities. It’s not enough just to find a chair in a corner of a noisy room, or a scrap of time at the end of a busy day. Creation of a space—a real, physical space, not a virtual one—dedicated to a measured pursuit of learning, both within oneself and with a community of others engaged in the same endeavor, is a worthy and necessary investment.
This fall, the College community came together to celebrate the conclusion of a two-phase, $9 million renovation and recreation of the Miller Library. Over the years, the Library really had become something of a relic—a leaky building with an unpredictable heating and cooling system and gloomy interior spaces that did little to inspire students or provide the academic resources and services they expected. But as a result of the determination and vision of chief librarian Dr. Ruth Shoge, as well as the generosity of the State of Maryland, our Board, the Kohl family and so many others, the reinvigorated library is poised to assume once again its place as the intellectual heart of the Washington College campus. A new roof, new wiring to support new technology, and a state-of-the-art geothermal heating and cooling system provide the hidden physical improvements. Interior spaces and lighting are designed to encourage quiet work and reflection, while a new café offers a place to gather and find a sense of community.
For students, the new library attempts to root them in the here and now and engage all of their senses, much in the same way a hands-on project in the field or classroom would. It complements other similar aspects of the College’s learning environment—the tactile art of letterpress, the first taste of Maryland crab, the scent of marsh, the sight of the river on a brisk clear fall morning and the call of Canada geese on the wing. All of these things make us want to take a deep breath and enjoy the wonder of where we are, how much there is to learn and experience, if only we pay attention. It’s hard, sometimes, to let go of that noisy, rushing train of contemporary life. It takes a commitment to the work and art of going within, and a place like the new Miller Library provides the entire Washington College community with an open invitation to do so.
The library renovation is the first major capital project of the Reiss administration.