Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Borrowing privileges

Inside Higher Ed asks, “How many books should a professor be able to check out?” I take no position on the borrowing privileges described therein. But reading the article made me recall a happy moment from Thomas Merton’s The Seven Story Mountain (1948).

The scene: the library at St. Bonaventure College (now St. Bonaventure University). Robert Lax is introducing his friends Merton and Ed Rice to Father Irenaeus Herscher, the college’s librarian:

“They were at Columbia too,” said Lax.

“Ah, Columbia,” said Father Irenaeus. “I studied at the Columbia Library School,” and then he took us into his own library and with reckless trust abandoned all the shelves to us. It never occurred to him to place any limit upon the appetites of those who seemed to like books. If they wanted books, well, this was a library. He had plenty of books, that was what a library was for. You could take as many as you liked, and keep them until you were through: he was astonishingly free of red tape, this happy little Franciscan. . . .

Presently we came out of the stacks with our arms full.

“May we take all these, Father?”

“Sure, sure, that’s fine, help yourself.”

We signed a vague sort of a ticket, and shook hands.

“Good-bye, Mr. Myrtle,” said the Friar, and stood in the open door and folded his hands as we started down the steps with our spoils.
Merton adds:
As far as I know, Father Irenaeus has never been robbed of his books on a larger scale than any other librarian, and on the whole, the little library at Saint Bonaventure’s was always one of the most orderly and peaceful I have ever seen.
No wonder: εἰρήνη [eiréné ] means “peace.”

Related reading
All OCA Merton posts (Pinboard)

comments: 4

Elaine said...

Well, that was adorable. So I adored it.

Michael Leddy said...

I’m glad you did. :)

Charles Céleste Hutchins said...

While berating colleagues and staff is never acceptable, one does wonder how exactly it creates extra work to raise a borrowing limit or why a whimsical signature deserves a reprimand. I hope there's more to this story

Michael Leddy said...

I’ve asked Paul Drake to put one of his operatives on the case. If there’s more, I should get wind of it. :)