Back in the early 1960s, when I was a Bellarmine student, the student body had a less-than-flattering way to describe the college library, which was then housed in a portion of today’s Horrigan Hall. We called it “the Best High School Library in Louisville.” And, believe it or not, that particular library, when it opened in 1954, was a great leap forward from the original one that had been tucked away in what is now Pasteur Hall. Since the opening of Bellarmine’s W.L. Lyons Brown Library on April 7, 1997, we have certainly made up for lost time and can boast of a splendid facility and collection.
I was thinking of that old library not long ago when one of our Bellarmine alums, Angela (Hobbs) Morris ’81, asked me to give a talk on the topic of “My Life in Libraries.” This was held at the Ernest Miller White Library of the Louisville Seminary, where Angela is head of public services.
One of the stories indelibly etched in my memory from my own student days is of an incident that took place in the old Bellarmine Library in Horrigan Hall. Faced with people ripping off their collection, the library had recently installed its first checker and turnstile. One of the first to come through—and asked to open his briefcase—was a certain adjunct professor of philosophy.
Caught off-guard by the new regulations, he decided that such a search was an insult to his dignity and demanded to speak to the librarian on duty. That individual, thoroughly competent and kind, could also be at times stern, even unbending. “I’m sorry,” she said. “Everyone must submit their belongings to search, even President Horrigan!”
“That doesn’t matter,” the faculty member persisted. “Neither he nor anyone else should be subjected to this intrusion.”
“Well,” the woman at the desk finally decreed, “I’m sorry, sir, but this is an absolute law.” Now the cards were on the table. But ever the philosopher, our somewhat officious academic played what he thought was his ideological trump.
“Young woman,” he shouted, “absolute laws are appropriate to God alone, and certainly not to assistant librarians!” It was a great put-down, but as far as we know, that briefcase was inspected thoroughly before the library door sprang open.
My own major confrontation with libr-ary law came when I was far from home, in London. It was in the years between my graduation from Bellarmine and my returning here to teach in 1973. Most of that time I was at Fordham University in pursuit of a doctorate, and I spent a semester at the British Museum doing research for that degree.
To get a card to use the British Library collection (then a part of the British Museum in Bloomsbury), I presented my credentials and letters of introduction and was given forms to complete. I took them back to the desk. “You haven’t done it right, have you?” said the clerk, with what I took at the time to be British disdain. “You’ve done it in ballpoint!” On this final word he not only raised his voice, but also put the emphasis on the second syllable. He grudgingly explained that I was required to use genuine flowing ink, and so I had to leave the building and find a stationer’s shop and make the appropriate purchases.
Now came my second try. I was back before the same stalwart clerk. I’m not applying for Social Security, I thought. I only want a library card. But the stern-faced official shook his head. “You still haven’t done it right, have you?” This time he nearly whispered it. “You’ve used your middle initial, haven’t you? Clearly, your full middle name is required.”
Fortunately, I could supply this—in dark fluid ink—on the spot. The third time was charmed and the great empire of manuscripts was at last opened to me. No Xeroxing was permitted, though, and for two months I sat there making notes (in pencil only!) from the diaries I was researching.
Any time I am tempted to take our ready access to resources in libraries today too much for granted, I think back on these vignettes of Bellarmine folk: One a young graduate student having trouble getting into a library, and the other an old professor having trouble getting out. And I appreciate the Bellarmine Library more than ever. Like all really good libraries, it is a place where the user can find an immense and incredible diversity, where new worlds are forever opening. And as for getting in and out? No problem.
Fr. Clyde F. Crews | firstname.lastname@example.org