By Alan Taylor ‘77
Professor of History at the University of Virginia
Dear President Greene:
Please allow me, as an alum (class of 1977) to congratulate you as the new president of a college that has been essential to my personal and professional development. I have remained engaged with Colby in a variety of ways since my graduation. In 1984-1985 I served on the faculty as a visiting lecturer in the history department. Subsequently, I have given four public lectures over the years, received an honorary degree at commencement, and was selected for the Distinguished Alumni Award in 2007. And I believe that my career as a historian has been a credit to my alma mater. I also have been a steady financial contributor, and hope to do more in the future.
Pivotal to my development as a student was direct access to the resources of Miller Library. I spent hundreds of hours there, particularly during my senior year, when I pursued an honors thesis on Maine’s politics during the early nineteenth-century. My experience with that thesis persuaded me to pursue graduate study in history and to concentrate my work on the early American republic. The collection at Miller Library proved essential to the first three articles that I published including one that derived from my honors thesis.
Historical research (as with many other disciplines) requires the patient recovery of connections between disparate pieces of evidence found in many textual sources. Although digital collections are a wonderful supplement to books, they should not be mistaken for a substitute.
And physical proximity to books and other textual sources is essential to thorough research. As a student, and later a faculty member, I made many important discoveries by exploring shelves of books directly without the mediation of a data-base.
As you can imagine, I am troubled by reports that a massive renovation of the library is underway that has removed half of the books, substituting office space for texts. This renovation began abruptly, without notice or consultation with any significant number of faculty members.
And it has proceeded relentlessly despite the protests from many faculty and students. Despite their repeated and respectful requests for a reconsideration of this renovation, they have been ignored or their concerns have been dismissed as insignificant. Such disregard for faculty wishes has demoralizing consequences, which will be felt in recruitment and retention, to say nothing of teaching. The college can have no greater source of strength than a shared sense that faculty, students, administrators, and trustees will work together for the common good. I am sorry to see this mutuality eroding so rapidly.
I realize that you are new to the college and are not yet responsible for the profound alteration of Miller Library. Fortunately, you now have a precious opportunity to correct a flawed process and a limited conception of the role of a library in the intellectual life of a liberal arts college. If access to books and faculty morale do not matter at Colby College, where will they matter?
I know many of the faculty members who have signed petitions requesting a reconsideration of the design and a recommitment to true consultation. I can attest that they are accomplished
scholars and constructive, thoughtful people who had devoted their careers to advancing the mission of the college. The process of revitalizing the library can only be advanced by drawing upon their expertise and insights.
I hope that you and the Board of Trustees will work together with the faculty and students to preserve Miller Library as a scholarly resource essential to the college.
Thank you for your consideration.