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Detail from a page in the Farnsworth Hours; illumination attributed to Flemish artist Willem Vrelant, ca. 1465, Booth Family Center for Special Collections

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The Millionth Volume: A Celebration

Howard W. Gunlocke Rare Book and Special Collections Room
November 20, 1983
February 10, 1984

Introduction from the Presentation of the Millionth Volume Program, November 20, 1983:

Since its founding in 1975 the Library Associates have played a vital role in the development of the book and manuscript collections of the main campus libraries of Georgetown University. It was natural, then, that this "friends" of the library group should play a significant role in the choice of the one millionth book to be added to these collections. When a special committee was appointed to make a recommendation for an appropriate book, this group decided that the title to be chosen should fulfill two conditions. First, it should be one which would be recognized by everyone as a landmark book of the western world; and, second, it should have relevance to Georgetown's academic programs. Twenty-five titles were nominated. The subsequent search for available copies from booksellers around the world narrowed this list to ten books. Of the titles under consideration the committee agreed unanimously that the first edition of John Milton's Paradise Lost ably fulfilled the two conditions: it is acknowleged universally as one of the most important books in English Literature; and Georgetown's program in English Literature plays an essential part in the liberal education of each of its undergraduate students.

The history of the publication of Paradise Lost is an interesting and complicated one. It was first published in 1667. Within a two-year period about 1,500 copies were produced of this first edition, but there were no fewer than six variant title pages and two different sets of preliminary leaves. The copy acquired for this occasion, one of some 200 still extant, is of the third issue with the fourth title page. Rebound in early nineteenth-century calf over boards, it bears the leather booklabels of two distinguished former owners, Julius Wangenheim and Beverly Chew.

The purchase of this book was made possible through the generosity of some 170 members of the Library Associates and other friends. To each of these donors we say: thank you for your wonderful generosity which made possible the addition of this outstanding book as our one millionth volume.

The acquisition of this important title provides a symbolic focus on the development of the main campus library system over the past decade. In that period the collection has more than doubled in size, but, more importantly, it has been most successful in acquiring a wide range of related materials necessary for the support of its academic programs and faculty research. In addition to the one million volumes of books and bound journals the collection now includes over 525,000 microforms, 145,000 government documents, 150,000 photographs, an outstanding manuscript collection that currently numbers over 5 million items and strong collections of audio-visual materials, graphics and maps.

If the library continues its present rate of growth, it will acquire its two millionth volume arund the year 2000. In order to provide a meaningful start toward this goal, the Board of the Library Associates suggested that it would be appropriate to ask those alumni, faculty, staff and other friends who were known to be book collectors if they would be willing to donate one or more noteworthy books, manuscripts or works of art for this purpose. The enthusiastic response to this appeal is show by the impressive list of 100 items in this program. These gifts range from rare 17th-century books to modern first editions and from works of art to literary letters and manuscripts—a most auspicious beginning for our goal of another million volumes by the end of this century. To all of these generous donors we offer our heartfelt thanks.

An Address Given on the Occasion of the Presentation of the One Millionth Volume to the Main Campus Libraries of the Georgetown University

by The Rev. Timothy S. Healy, S.J., President of Georgetown University, November 20, 1983

Like most intricate and eldering organizations, universities are not short on symbols. The president is one of them, at least at times. Athletic teams are another. All our buildings, at least our old ones, are also symbolic. The library is, however, a special symbol. It touches the heart of our work and our being more directly than any other good the university proffers. Unlike our other symbols, the library lasts. Games end, buildings and presidents "crumble, are extended, are removed, destroyed, restored," but books go on forever. The library stays the one place where we meet old and new friends and are comfortable even in its smells.

Symbols are teaching tools, as all who deal in literature know. They touch our minds and emotions and make us feel whole. They involve us, gear us in, engage us more powerfully than any other learning. They are also unending. Every time we probe them we discover new leads, new ambiguities, new paths into mysterious distances to feed our minds and enthrall our imaginations. This afternoon I will touch a few of the many ways a library symbolizes a university.

The university is a keeper of the past, and the keeper's keep is the library. That past can at times be long and sorry. In Shaw's play, "Caesar and Cleopatra," Caesar is told that the library of Alexandria is on fire. The messenger cries, "What is burning there is the memory of mankind." Caesar answers, "A shameful memory. Let it burn." Most of us would not feel that way, and yet we have to own that the past is both glory and burden. The library holds saints and beggars, makers and builders, men and women looking for another Troy to burn. It shames us with American slavery, the Russian savaging of peasants, the Holocaust; heavy burdens for both mind and imagination. However much the past is failure, it is still the key to our puzzlements and a matrix for shaping young minds. Where we have been matters and must be the base of all map making for where we would like to go.

The library as keeper of the past serves us in other ways. Its weight is our ballast, the mass to hold our keep on even course. Poking around in it cuts down on loneliness. When you work in history, it's hard to find yourself singular, different, or extraordinary. It may merely be that misery loves company, but there is a sense of rootedness, an evenness of the mind that only knowing our own past can give us.

We who have in keep a great republic find in the library's care of the past another needed lesson. When I was a kid, I went to a high school that had no truck with electives. We all had four years of Latin and three of Greek. At the time I found that a tight rein on youthful ingenuity. Now as a citizen, I know the classics taught me one lesson of capital importance. Great civilizations for all their power and their beauty can perish. Virgil saw in that knowledge the lacrimae rerum and his lovely phrase has haunted the western imagination ever since. I wish I could comfortably find first century Rome all that different from twentieth century America.

It is good for universities to teach how fragile all our institutions are. From time to time we all must take the "backward glance into the primitive terror." If we do not, we misread how uneasily poised our freedoms are and how steady must be their defense. I'm not urging that we haunt youthful imaginations with a modern Nemesis (although our nuclear arsenal may do that better than any Roman poet), but tomorrow's citizens must understand how many shoulders we stand upon and how busily we must defend that standing.

To outsiders the university is a quagmire of complexities symbolized in the enormous reach of its library holdings. You don't have to read the books. All you have to do is walk through the stacks. No matter how learned you are, or think yourself, here where the works of man are pressed and held forever, each of us feels desperately and reassuringly small. It is good to know how little we loom in the long swells of human learning.

Americans, particularly young Americans, are more open than any people in history to the deep treason of television’s rhythms, to the slick pretense that one can “cover” anything “in depth” in five and a half minutes, to the sick weakness our politics show for slogans. A library is the quiet antidote to whatever seduction slogans hold for a mind. Here in the complexity of our own past and the variety of our present, we can recognize the gross and grotesque simplifications that increasingly batter our ears and our hearts from every stereophonic corner of our world. We can even learn to unmask sloganeering wrapped in piety, the most dangerous and most rancorous kind.

Simplifications put at risk the unity of our people. They are slogans to describe each of us, by race, by religion, by trade, even by size. We have to teach the young not to see themselves or us in these grotesque terms; to look instead at themselves and us at our best; not the way we are but the way we dream of being. To see this way they need a bump for complexity, a tolerance for ambiguity, and most of all, a sense of humor. The greatest moral teaching of the university is to open up the complexity of any problem or of any person, to lead the young to know “the subtle knot that makes us man.”

The university and its symbolic echo, the library, mirror for us one part of what scripture calls “the image and likeness of God,” that is our intelligence. A library also images the other great likeness of God, freedom. The way we set libraries up, their variety, the ordered arrangement of books by number (for the convenience of librarians), forces readers to choose between good and bad, real and phony, true and misleading. A basic freedom to choose, even if the choice be only from which volume one cribs a term paper. The exercise of freedom is still there.

As students grow older, another of the university’s freedoms becomes more gripping and enlightening, that is not the freedom “to” but the freedom “of.” This is the freedom of welcome, the freedom of belonging, the freedom of home. It is the freedom of the owner and of the lover. For such users the library mirrors the very best of what happens between faculty and students, the talk and care and sharing that in our sad world seem possible only on a university campus. Auden’s beautiful works mock the generation gap: “We are all contemporaries, all of us who walk the earth at the same time.” That is still true and, thanks be to God, still known in our universities. Study is a world where the old and young can touch and understand each other, can share a task and thrive in it, can learn to care and love each other.

As a student’s mind grows and deepens, or for that matter as a faculty member’s does, the world of the library becomes a familiar place, a gathering of friends and allies, a ground on which one stands at ease. To be free of a great library is like being free of a whole world and symbolizes the great freedom a university grants where all who walk this ground are free to share and enjoy each other. In all our religious traditions, freedom “of” is what we most hope for, most often pray for, all we can ask from God.

Let us stay for a moment with religious symbol. The library is the abiding proof that the slow and continuing work of God’s creation “rides time like a river.” Whether we center that work as Christians do on one man, or whether we find it gathered as do the Jews around a people, it is still the same slow labor of creation working its way through time. Dom Leclerc’s vision of “Human Learning and the Love of God,” or Reb Tevia’s dream of himself as a wealthy man reading the holy books are both dreams. But they are dreams that touch deeply the highest work of a university and indeed of the human mind, contemplation.

Contemplation begets a vocabulary for each age of man. The young call it dreaming, and that’s a good name, for dreams are the laboratories of  tomorrow. Whitehead says that in universities we teach in order to remake all our institutions. The young dream and the old teach, and out of our slow process grows a tomorrow that we who are old will never know, but one we have helped shape in the minds or hearts of our students. They are blithely unconscious of the power hidden in their contemplative world. Many of them are not aware of how special a place it is that honors and understands contemplation. The quiet rooms of a library, its shadowy stacks and bright reading rooms, are free ground where minds and imaginations turn loose on both living and dead. It is our symbol of the work that fills it.

Few men and women of the 20th century are native to this isle “full of noises that give delight and hurt not.” We who live in a university should not forget how deeply it draws and moves the young men and women who come to it. When they have to leave, caught like Caliban, they are all reminded that when they wake they will most surely “cry to dream again.”

I promised Joe Jeffs that I would not go much longer than fifteen minutes, and yet in the time I have spoken I have only scratched the surface of the great symbol that shapes our efforts here at Georgetown and which we honor today.

Georgetown College, in the early years of its endeavor, began a library with some 50 books for common use brought from Baltimore by Rev. Louis DuBorg, a Sulpician and the College’s third president, in 1796. In 1815 a bequest from Archbishop John Carroll’s will left funds to the College for the Library. Since that time, the library has literally outgrown its own walls.

In the decade of 1960 to 1970 the collection doubled to 450,000 volumes. The years 1970 to 1983 have seen the size of the book and periodicals collections double once again, and today we recognize the fruits of these efforts first with the presentation of the one millionth volume to the Lauinger Library collection, a rare first edition of Milton’s Paradise Lost, and again, as we witness the initiation of a collection of a second million volumes.

A University library develops through the generosity of many people. Georgetown offers its “thanks” to the “Library Associates” and other benefactors whose individual gifts have led the drive to meet the one million volume mark, and indeed to go beyond it.

We owe our thanks to so many faculty members who have donated collections which they have acquired throughout their life commitment to learning and teaching. We thank alumni and parents who give ongoing support to the Library. To all we say thanks—for preserving our history, our dreams, and our hopes.

Let me end with a hope that is very close to a prayer. A 16th-century gentleman and scholar who went to my own university at Oxford and later served as its High Steward, Sir Thomas More, remarked that “God made plants for their simplicity, animals for their innocence, and man to serve Him wittily in the tangle of His mind.” May all Georgetown’s learners, students or faculty members, know here the tangle of the mind and learn to live and love in it wittingly.