by Edward Shanahan
Like a thickly plotted tale, there are many strands to the story
of the Hampshire College's Center for the Book, very much a work
According to Jim Wald, project director, and one of a handful
of Hampshire faculty members overseeing this fledgling enterprise,
the Center for the Book exists mostly as a powerful idea with
strong campus support.
For now, there is no physical space that is designated as the
Center for the Book; there is no administrative structure, although
there is some funding, but there are the beginnings of book-related
Interviewed in his book-filled office in Franklin Patterson Hall,
Wald, an historian who came to Hampshire 14 years ago, says that
in some ways the idea for the Center for the Book is rooted in
the vision for Hampshire College embedded in the 1966 document
"The Making of a College" that led to the creation of Hampshire.
Even then, Hampshire "was looking ahead to a time when the world
is wired,'' Wald explained. Education would not necessarily require
the teacher and student to be in the same room for communication
and learning to occur.
As a way of studying all means of communication, the Center for
the Book, he says, is really short-hand for trying to update Hampshire's
earlier vision by looking at forms of communication in all manner
of print and non-print, published and electronic texts.
So, with a three-year grant from the MacArthur Foundation, a
faculty committee of five with Wald as its director, has begun
the task of shaping the Center for the Book.
Thus far, a symposium was held in 1999 that began the process
of bringing to Hampshire people from the local book arts community
- book binders, designers, illustrators, hand-press operators,
papermakers - including the introduction of a book-making course
taught by the artist Steve Daiber. Wald himself, as well as Sura
Levine, an art historian, has taught classes on the art of the
modern book as well as the history of the book.
Open faculty seminars and public lectures are held every three
of four weeks, which explore aspects of the culture of the book.
According to Wald, "a good read library," created in one of the
dormitories, or mods, in 1998, was the outgrowth of the oversized
book collection of David Kerr, professor of communications. Meanwhile,
faculty, staff, and students have made donations of such items
as chairs, lamps and books, the test for the latter that they
be "a good read."
The site, which began as a lending library and reading room,
has also come to serve as a place for tutoring and public poetry
readings. Kerr's latest idea is the creation of book stabiles,
or kiosks around the campus where students and others can pick
up books and perhaps drop off reviews for others.
All of this is aimed at fostering a reading culture, and emphasizing
activities students can participate in to promote literacy.
In addition, Wald says, the Center for the Book eventually will
fit in nicely with the evolving "cultural village," at Hampshire,
which now consists of the National Yiddish Book Center and the
planned Eric Carle Museum for Picture Book Art for which ground
was broken in May. It is scheduled to open its doors in 2002.
Both of those enterprises are administratively and financially
independent of Hampshire, even though they occupy college property.
The Center for the Book could be ''the intellectual connection''
between these undertakings, Wald explained.
Finally, a proposed major renovation for the college library
now in the planning phase will bring to fruition the physical
presence on campus of the Center for the Book.
The current library is too small and uninviting, he says, and
planning is at the stage where a firm known for its innovative
library design - Helfand Meyerberg Guggenheimer Architects of
New York City - has been selected to prepare a set of designs
for the renovation.
For two years a task force has been "thinking about what the
role of the library should be,'' especially since technologies
like the Internet "raise questions about what it means to have
access to information."
The renovated library, which will be combined with a new student
center, will also provide the new physical and administrative
home for the Center for the Book.
Linking the library to the student center, Wald says, recognizes
that "people don't use libraries the way they used to,'' because,
increasingly learning and communication are collaborative rather
than individual, thus library and student center uses ''change
from one time of day to another. ''
The actual renovation, he said, will await a college capital
fund campaign, which would take up to five years.
Once the Center for the Book gains a home base, it will seek
to build up "specialized collections," perhaps consisting of student
initiatives and research, and material that reflects Hampshire's
values, possibly materials relating to political activism and
finally the book arts. "It will not be a traditional rare book
room,'' Wald stresses, because that would be inconsistent with
the Hampshire's (different) take on its mission.
Wald said it does not make sense for Hampshire to attempt to
compete with the extensive collections assembled by the older
colleges in the Five College area, that would result in a needless
duplication of resources. According to Wald, Martin Antonetti,
curator of rare books at Smith College, has recently begun regular
consultations with the other institutions about the book arts
and collection-building in the valley.
Wald, whose mother was a librarian, admits that he is himself
"a little bit of a book collector," because with books "we are
talking about ideas on some level.''
For him, the book is "an economic object, a work of art, a work
of technology, the way of communication."
He sees the eventual mission of the Center for the Book as unique
among the Five Colleges, even though there are long-standing book-related
programs at the other institutions such as Smith College and UMass.
Wald suspects local book artisans have been burned in the past
by unfulfilled promises that the academy would reach out more
completely to local artisans.
"There's an awareness now that we need to have some kind of book
arts program and [a] program in printing,'' that recognizes and
involves the talent-rich local book community.
"We would be a link between the academic world, the general public
and the book arts community," he says, emerging as a kind of "clearing
house for the book culture in the valley."