College dedicates new library

As part of the Convocation weekend program, alumni, students and faculty gathered for the dedication of the new Sawyer library.

President Falk and Bicentennial Medalist David Spadafora ’72 spoke at the ceremony last Saturday.

Convocation is usually the second Saturday in September, but the College scheduled it a week later this year so it would coincide with the dedication ceremony. This allowed Spadafora to deliver the keynote speech after having received his Bicentennial Medal that morning. Alumni and parents of students present for Convocation were also able to attend.

Spadafora’s speech was informed by his experience as president and librarian of the Newberry Library in Chicago, an independent research library for the humanities and social sciences. Spadafora spoke about the continued relevance of “libraries with walls” despite the increasing availability of comprehensive digital collections.

“Although libraries without walls offer collections to their users, libraries with walls offer much more. They present to us carefully developed systems and highly cultivated expertise that together multiply what a reader can do with a collection,” Spadafora said. “They give library users the chance to turn mere static information into dynamic knowledge.”

Falk reflected on the libraries that have served the College throughout its history and how they each reflected its goals at the time.  These include the College’s first library, Lawrence, built in 1847 to house a small collection of mostly theological books; Stetson, built in 1920 to serve the gentleman scholar; Sawyer, built in 1975 to house a large collection and provide space for individual study; and Schow, built in 2000 to facilitate group study of the sciences. According to Falk, the new Sawyer library continues to reflect the evolving needs and aspirations of the College in that it provides an adaptable space to investigate emerging fields of study. In particular, he praised its design for integrating the historic Stetson Library with the modern Sawyer Library.

“In imagining our new library we have been unafraid to look back as well as forward to the very best of our traditions as well as to our sense of what the future holds. We see this in the architecture in the ways that it honors the old and integrates it with the new … It is truly the heart of the College reflecting and embodying our deepest ideals,” Falk said.

Spadafora also sees the library as a center of learning on campus.

“Here is a centrally located place to which students will be drawn and are being drawn as by a beacon from inside its glass walls. Here they will find and use, side by side, physical books, digital simulacra and technology … here they will flock for group project work and class meetings that employ library materials, because much space is intentionally provided for these activities, because rare and special collection materials are integrated with everything else and expected to be used for education and research.” Spadafora also praised the library for offering another place for students to talk with faculty in their offices, serving as an “intellectual commons.”

“We need a commons if we are to work together, students with students, students with faculty, both with library staff, on the problems posed and the opportunities offered by proliferating information and rapidly evolving knowledge.”

The ceremony also included music by Robert Yang ’15, introductions by Dean Bolton and student readings from the collections of Sawyer and Chapin libraries, Following the ceremony, the College provided refreshments for attendees and invited guests to explore the library.

The College will continue to celebrate the completion of the new Sawyer Library with the Book Unbound program. The Book Unbound is a series of more than 30 courses, numerous talks, presentations, exhibitions and performances that the College plans to host  throughout the year.  Faculty members Christopher Nugent, chair of the comparative literature department, and Edan Dekel, chair of the Classics and Jewish Studies departments, created The Book Unbound initiative.

The ’62 Center Performance Series, WCMA, the Oakley Center and several other groups and organizations will hold events, performances or exhibits as part of The Book Unbound. The College hopes that the initiative will allow members of the Williams community to use the resources available at Sawyer and elsewhere on campus to explore a variety of cultural and intellectual questions.