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Groundbreaking Ceremony for the Armacost Library
Tuesday, December 10, 2002
The construction of a library is an exercise in declaring the values of the institution and the culture that support it. Such an exercise demands that the institution articulate its pedagogical principles in physical form.
The structure for which we ceremonially break ground today has its intellectual roots in the reformation of the Christian Church in the 16th Century and in the so-called age of reason which followed, often called the Enlightenment. Before the Reformation and the invention of Gutenburg's printing press, which was the engine of the Reformation, there were few books in Europe at all, and even fewer in languages other than Latin and Greek. Libraries were designed to insulate the few books there were and the few who could read them. Books were chained to reading desks, and each volume weighed an average of over twenty pounds!
The leaders of the Protestant Reformation wanted to sweep away the apparatus of the Roman Church that placed its officials as intermediaries between man and God. Each man was to work out his own salvation by reading the Bible himself and listening and speaking to God without assistance or interference from the officials of the clergy. This democratization of the process of seeking salvation required not simply piety but, above all, that men be able to read, and that the Bible be available to him in his own native, vernacular, language. The movable-type printing press made the publication of personal bibles in many languages possible, and therefore made the Reformation possible, and consequently made possible our contemporary conception of a library: a locus of books, and many other forms of information, in spoken languages, that are not, as a rule, in Latin or Greek, and that are available to all the members of the community for whom the library is constructed. With the Enlightenment, the library becomes a place not to conceal but to reveal.
Just as the movable-type printing press changed our very conception not only of salvation but of learning and thinking, so, too, has the quite recent development of the personal computer and the Internet changed forever our concepts of access to information and the nature of knowledge and community. Work that scholars sat in libraries for decades to do can now be done in seconds by computers. One of my professors spent decades tracking down the images of birds in Chaucer as part of his research for a book on images of the spirit. Years later, using a computer, I did the same for the poems of Keats in thirty minutes. The impact of technology on scholarship and learning is now pervasive in every discipline in the humanities as well as in the social, natural and applied sciences. While the new Eckerd College library has its roots in the Reformation, its character will be one of dramatic engagement in the wired and wireless worlds of information technology. This library will provide seating space for 400 students at once, 25% of our residential student body, as well as office and work space for both library and information technology support staff, whose sole function is to support the users of this information commons.
The building will be both technologically sophisticated and environmentally friendly. Its reading room will look out over this beautiful, quintessentially Florida pond into the rookery in the trees on the opposite side, so often populated by the exotic birds of our latitude. Appropriately, in such a center of information, students in the reading room of this library will never have any doubt about where they are, as they begin to define and work out their own destinies and, perhaps, their own salvation. This facility, in this beguiling place, is about contemplation and pondering as much as it is about accessing materials: And rightly so, because the Peter Armacost Library, like the nature of the Eckerd collegiate experience, will be not simply about information, but about shaping the habits of the mind and imagination that turn information into knowledge, and nurturing the habits of the heart to apply that knowledge to living lives of great meaning and noble purpose.
Thank you, John and Rosemary Galbraith, for your generosity of spirit and for the faith you show in the work of this College by your extraordinary gift. We will work tirelessly to see that your gift is applied thoughtfully to enrich the lives of the men and women who will use it. In this work, as Winston Churchill put it, "we will not flag or fail."
Thank you, Jack and Ruth Eckerd, for answering the call for a matching gift to the Galbraiths' in support of this vital project, and for answering the call, as you have so often, to support the work of this College as it seeks to do God's work and enrich the lives of His creation.
Thank you also for your gift to fund the creation of the Campus Master Plan, of which this building is the first step, the lynchpin and the centerpiece. Nothing has done more to galvanize and build a renewed sense of community on this campus and among its constituencies than the new Campus Master Plan, and we are grateful for your confidence and support and continued philanthropy.
Thank you, Marty Wallace, for the long history of support you and your late husband, John, have provided to this College. And thank you especially for making the first gift to the endowment for this new library, which we will use to enrich its collection.
Thank you, Angela, for your remarks about the impact this new library will have on the lives and intellectual architecture of the students of Eckerd College, of whom you are such a shining example. You embody the hope we have in the Eckerd experience: that it will nurture and shape men and women of great learning and greater character.
Thank you, Miles, for your strong and steady hand on the tiller of our institutional vessel. Your leadership of the Board of Trustees of Eckerd College has been nothing short of remarkable, and the entire college community recognizes that and thanks you for it.
And thank you, Peter Armacost. Thank you for your pursuit of distinction for the College, for dreaming big dreams for this brand new upstart school in the palmetto scrub. As its principal dreamer for over half its existence, you persuaded John Galbraith, and many others, to dream along with you, and to invest their resources, as you invested all your energy and will, into making those dreams a reality. This library, and the national reputation for academic excellence that Eckerd College has achieved in the blink of an eye, are nothing less than dreams that have come true. You believed in Eckerd's future, and you inspired others to believe. Thank you for making your dream theirs as well. The substantial achievements of this College under your leadership are a living testament to your work, your imagination, and your professional life.
As we break ground for this library, this sacred place in our culture that will bear your name, where our Christian religious history and our civic polity merge in their commitment to intellectual and religious freedom, we wish you well, Peter Armacost. We wish you well as you head out for the ferment in Pakistan, as the Islamic world lumbers fitfully toward its own reformation and while we, in response, lumber fitfully toward another reformation of our own. You will be at the epicenter of the most important conflict of our age, and we wish you safe travels and, for all our sakes, great success.
And thanks to each of you for coming today to watch our dreams begin to take form. Now let's start building this library. Would those in the platform party please join me at the shovels?