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Fond recollections of Hesburgh Library

Observer Viewpoint | Tuesday, April 19, 2005

For generations, researchers have been dependent on books for their scholarship. They have used libraries in order to gain and transmit new knowledge. This dependence on libraries applied especially to university research, and thus the library has always been at the intellectual center of the university. In the case of Notre Dame, “the intellectual citadel of American Catholicism,” of course the cathedral with its divine service can certainly be called the spiritual center as well. Yet along side it is the center of secular knowledge, the library.As Max Kade distinguished visiting professor in the department of German and Russian at Notre Dame, I had the good fortune of teaching 19 century German literature for a period of four months. Being with the students was intellectually and emotionally uplifting, as was the interaction with my faculty colleagues. Yet in all honesty, the greatest joy was afforded me by the library. At first I was not at all acquainted with the library at Notre Dame. Yet no sooner did I ask than I was greeted with the quickest and most cordial assistance by the staff and librarians who provide service to students and faculty. While not all books I needed were available there, the staff made every effort to meet the needs of the researcher. Whatever wasn’t owned locally was acquired through Interlibrary Loan. In one instance, an item that could not be photocopied due to awkward size was digitized in the Special Collections Department. Robert Kusmer, the bibliographer for German literature, was instrumental in acquiring needed resources and acquainting me with the collections and services. Indeed, the most striking experience in my many encounters with employees of the Library was that my requests were taken seriously: I was respected as a scholar. Nor will I ever forget how late one evening I discovered to my dismay that I did not have my library card with me, thus preventing me from being able to use the machine to check out a much needed book. I mentioned this dilemma to the monitor on duty whom I had come to know. She proceeded to check out the book on the machine using her own card, thus taking on the responsibility for it. (I can assure you that within a few days I returned the book.)I have now returned to Germany and have resumed using the university library where I live. However, the spirit of pleasant cooperation and friendly support is lacking. Of course I am able to get the books I need expeditiously. Yet when I do not know something or am not familiar with something, then assistance is given grudgingly. No one smiles at me when I return books I have borrowed. And while the American does not lack for a word of greeting, in Germany silence reigns. I am not disputing the competence of the German library, but rather its humane atmosphere: it is cold. And my standards have changed. Since my stay at Notre Dame, I know that research within a pleasant setting is more fun. During my time in America I have researched and written productively because I was happy going to the library. For this I am thankful.

Professor Dyck taught at Notre Dame during the Fall Semester, 2004. His article was translated from German by Robert L. Kusmer, Associate Librarian in Hesburgh Library. Kusmer can be contacted at rkusmer@nd.edu.The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.