Bixler, Books, and Bibliomania: The Antiochian, January 1965

At the risk of first-person voice, over the weekend I helped Kevin Rose, Historian for the Turner Foundation of Springfield, lead a tour of Modernist architecture on the Antioch College campus. The Turner Foundation operates a number of themed tours in the area including a recent one showcasing the Yellow Springs residential work of regional architect Jack Klein. Concentrating on examples inspired from the German-born International style, we led a group of over 30 around Birch Hall, through Trailside Museum, past the Student Union, over to Spalt (née Corry) Hall, and finally back to Olive Kettering Library where we started, with Kevin leading the way and I contributing “color commentary” whenever needed (and often when it wasn’t).

As we walked west from Glen Helen on what is left of the last stretch of North College St., I decided to pause at Weston Hall, currently undergoing repair toward becoming student space, and relate to the group a story I learned from a source I consulted in preparation for the event. That source, Paul Bixler’s retrospective of the first 10 years in Olive Kettering, became this month’s Stacks and is reprinted below. From its completion in 1925, Weston served as Horace Mann Library for 30 years. Stopping there to tell of the day that Bixler, known to many as “PB,” thought his building was about to collapse seemed a perfect setup to explaining just how and especially why OKL is so over-engineered.

Bixler’s opening tale of near-structural failure aside, Horace Mann Library was never quite up to the task it was assigned. Though it was a great place to read and study, it was never all that good at storing books. Reengaging the Kettering family in the 1950s is what ultimately rescued the College’s ever growing and increasingly significant book collection from crashing in on itself. With it safely installed on the heavily reinforced floors of OKL by 1955, we can almost hear the sense of relief in PB’s voice.

It’s a lengthy read but worth the effort. Apart from the memories, which paint a picture of rapid and dramatic evolution not just of the Antioch College library but of Antioch College itself and most importantly of its students, we can see the changes happening in PB’s field over his long career. His discussion of library automation, absolutely in its infancy in the mid-1960s, largely predicts the online catalogs of today, complete with their shortcomings, and his emphasis on the human quality of library service has continued throughout, Joe Cali on a bad day notwithstanding.

Olive Kettering Library officially turns sixty years old in a month or so on October 5th, Founders Day. That was the day the building was dedicated by industrialist, inventor, and philanthropist Charles F. Kettering, one of the greatest benefactors in the College’s history, and David Riesman, prominent sociologist, education scholar, and fan of the College. Because classes were already in session, OKL was already operational, meaning her actual birthday had already passed, but it wouldn’t be the first time we fudged a date.

Bixler, Books, and Booming Bibliomania
Reprinted from The Antiochian, vol. 36, no. 1 January 1965

Librarian Paul Bixler, who came to Antioch in 1935, has witnessed astonishing growth not only in the college’s library facilities, but in student use of them. He describes these developments in the following article, fourth in a series on changes in academic departments and educational facilities at Antioch. Bixler is a graduate of Hamilton, Harvard, and Western Reserve University, has applied his knowledge both at Antioch and overseas: From 1958-60 he went on leave to Burma to organize a library for the University of Rangoon’s School of Social Sciences, and he spent last July as consultant for the Faculty of Exact and Natural Sciences of the National University of Buenos Aires.

By Paul Bixler

I suppose that most readers, when they think of a library, are not so likely to recall a particular book as to see in their eyes a particular place or a specific building. At least that is my experience, only more so. In the summer of 1935, a few days after I arrived in Yellow Springs, I was sitting in my new six-by-six office on the second floor of Horace Mann Library when I was alerted by a loud “crack” below me as though the foundations of the building were being shaken. I rushed downstairs to find that the sound I had heard was apparently only the last of many. All four of the thick oak beams that supported the structure were riven with wide splits and cracks. But I was reassured to note the strong iron bands that some years before had been installed around the beams to prevent sagging or collapse.

We seemed to live dangerously at Horace Mann in those days. In two successive springs the basement was flooded and we had to move books from the lower shelves. Water not only backed up in the sewer line but, as in most Yellow Springs basements of the time, it seeped in liberally through the basement walls. There was also the attic. The shelves up there, loaded down with back files of magazines, for good reason were not open to the college “public” but only to library personnel. The attic floor had all the resiliency of an Irish bog, and you had to stand still at the shelves in order to focus clearly (it was also a little murky) on a magazine title or date. Every two or three years Plant Supt. Henry Waite used to call in engineering assistants to assay the hazards. Their judgments turned out to be infallible. Those of us sitting on the second floor beneath the attic were never inundated with a sudden avalanche of old “Congressional Records” or “Literary Digests.”

There were compensations of course. There was the intimacy of the building and perhaps a kind of coziness. Alumni of the 1930s and ‘40s will remember the fireplace. We sometimes had a real fire in it—occasionally for the primitive purpose of heat. (The fireplace was one facility we did not—could not easily—duplicate in the Kettering Library, and that seems a clear loss.) The seats in front of the fireplace were far too few even then, but they were usually warm in at least three senses of the word.

Horace Mann Library could never hold all the library books. And though Antioch was poorer than it is today, the books kept coming along more and more inexorably every year, and so, almost as inexorably, did the growing number of readers. From 1930 on, science books—including psychology but not mathematics—were housed in a single large room in the Science Bldg. It was a singularly successful arrangement for its day, but I can note here only that its chief ornament for many years was “reader” Austin Patterson, late professor of chemistry. It was here that Dr. Patterson performed many of the bibliographic feats in science that did so much in his later years to change the context of the term “book chemist” from a derogatory meaning to one of merit.*

In 1939 we put a small stack addition on Horace Mann. It cost the unbelievably (in today’s terms) low sum of $10,000, but it was a solid structure and it doubled the building’s book capacity. Yet the books continued to come and in 10 years the library was gasping for space again. Furthermore, the number of students was going up, their interest in study and reading was increasing, and library seating space was becoming more and more at a premium. Readers accompanied by a minimum of reading matter began spilling over into a North Hall “reading room,” into the Business Administration-Economics Dept. library, which presently became the Blum Room on the second floor of Antioch Hall and into the Physical Education Dept.’s book oasis in Curl Gymnasium.

When in 1953 Charles Kettering gave Antioch $750,000 for a new library, he saved us all from a fate worse than cremation. (Horace Mann Library itself had been built on the ashes of a burnt-out mansion, and in 1952 the reading room I just mentioned as well as a growing audio-visual collection, a “branch library,” disappeared in the North Hall fire of that year.) By that time we were buying as few new books as we could to scrape by with and for nearly every new volume that went on the shelves we had to take an old one off, putting it in either storage or up for sale.

When Eero Saarinen was laying out the campus plan, he “placed” the new library just to the north of Antioch Hall and east of North Hall, in an area now taken up by Red Square, the Mound, and much else beside. At the time it seemed a especially felicitous spot. But inescapably the east side of the new building would have extended into the old campus (toward Corry St. and the railroad) two or three feet beyond Antioch Hall—a move that had been prohibited by Antioch’s original Board of Trustees. On the instant denial of space, Saarinen “moved” the building to the spot where it stands today, between the Science Bldg. and the gymnasium; so quickly and smoothly did he suggest the new site that those who witnessed the event do not now remember so much the actual decision as the remarkable agility and grasp of the mind that made it possible. The faculty committee accepted the new plan on the spot.

A library is a place of many mansions. When Charles Kettering spoke of the new building in 1954, he suggested (only half in jest) that we should put over its portals the words “Enter Here at Your Own Risk.” These words are not engraved anywhere, but I have often thought that we should have them somewhere to remind us that a quest for knowledge usually begins in skepticism. His words seemed in violent contrast to those of David Riesman, who delivered the library dedication address on the topic: “The Oral Tradition, the Written Word and the Screen Image.” But a library can be all things to all men, and in a college it can mean many things to the same men on different occasions. So far as I know, no one ever tried to interpret Kettering to Riesman or Riesman to Kettering. But between one’s skepticism and the other’s affirmation, they seemed to dramatize a spectrum so inclusive as to welcome almost any idea or attitude occurring to any Antiochian at any moment—a large order indeed.

Planning the building was in many respects a do-it-yourself proposition—performed largely by the library staff working from policies suggested by a faculty committee chaired by the late Basil Pillard, professor of English, and from the technical but laconically offered advice of the architect. So far as I know, Mr. Kettering never seriously discussed the site or saw the plans, and he didn’t visit the building till it was finished. The architect was a silent young man for whom this was his first major responsibility. The structure was of simple design, exterior brick, and modular. Inside it had most of the modern amenities for reading, listening, looking, and study; the most unusual feature for its time was perhaps the number of individual desks and carrels. From a librarian’s point of view, however, the outstanding feature was its efficiency. This is not something the casual reader will understand, though it does affect his use of library materials. The efficiency I refer to is in the economic use of library personnel, the common accessibility to reference and special bibliographic materials, centralized circulation, and simply getting books back on the shelves once they are returned.

The building was a bargain, too. It was constructed during a pronounced dip in the building cycle by an experienced firm that at the time needed the job. We bought a number of easy chairs for the chief reading area and we even purchased a rug and some oversized pillows (for sitting on the floor) for one of the seminar rooms. But for the most part the equipment and furnishings were simple, sturdy, comfortable and in certain key spots somewhat esthetic. By laying aside 10 percent from the original estimate of the construction costs and by shopping around extensively for equipment and furnishings, we saved enough money not only to improve the site around the building and to construct the parking lot in the rear but to buy $65,000 worth of additional books in the years 1954-58. Antioch’s new library is the only one I’ve ever heard of that included in its new furnishings additional and much needed reading material. I never talked to Mr. Kettering about this development, but I am sure that in this allotment from the lump sum he gave for the library building he would have approved our extensive purchase of more “tools of the trade.”

This is the library, the place, or to be historically correct, these have been the places. What has happened over the years? Do students and teachers read more? Have better facilities and more books been worthwhile? A good year for comparison with the present is 1941-42; it was a year of average growth and accomplishment, and the numerical comparison with 1964 comes out almost in even figures. In 1941-42 the college had enrolled 752 students, and at that time the library owned 66,800 books, and it circulated a few over 37,000. This past year when the student population had multiplied 225 per cent, the number of available library books had multiplied 200 per cent and the circulation of those books had grown by 400 per cent. Today the library records more annual circulation (148,000) than it owns volumes (132,000). And the figures are in need of further amplification. Many of the volumes we own (bound periodicals, for example) do not circulate. Furthermore, circulation figures record only one part of the use of library materials. Anyone who has recently visited the building and seen books and magazines piled on individual study desks with the word “save” on a slip of paper by them will understand that use within the building (much of it unrecorded) has increased enormously.

Yes, students and teachers repair to the library far more than they once did. If I go back far enough, I can recall professors who took no great interest in library materials beyond the few books they put on reserve, and there were some who had little interest in ordering new books—perhaps because their department book funds seemed so futile. Today the head of every department thinks his library allotment is too small, though it is likely to be five to 10 times what it was 15 years ago, and I am frequently embarrassed by faculty requests of “just one or two more” subscriptions to new (or older) periodicals. (Incidentally, if you’re speaking of explosions, add birth of new magazines and other forms of intelligence to that of people.)

The attitudes of students has changed even more. Back in the 1930s and ‘40s there was a small minority of Antioch undergraduates who viewed the library with a kind of amused tolerance. Another small group looked on books in a dilettantish manner—not necessarily a wholly unfavorable aspect. Others passed by on the other side of the street. Today most students take the library and their work in it with great seriousness, sometimes a bit frighteningly so. They ask questions and request books of far more serious import than some of their fathers and mothers did. The library is now a place to go—more so than the C(offee) Shop. Years ago the quiet of Horace Mann Library was usually broken only by the thump of moving feet overhead (the floors transmitted such sounds with some precision). Today one of our chief problems on Kettering’s first floor is plain indiscriminate noise—the mild clamor that can result from many low-keyed voices, the shuffling of feet, and the rolling of book trucks, punctuated once in a while by the thump of a falling volume.

Three years ago Guy Lyle, who preceded me at Antioch (he’s now at Emory University), suggested that a number of college libraries make a brief, on-the-spot survey of who visited the library and how its facilities were used. At Antioch on an unannounced Wednesday, Raymond Gorden, associate professor of sociology, and some of his students studying surveys handed out brief questionnaires to all students visiting Kettering asking a variety of questions as to their purposes and accomplishments. It turned out that slightly over 60 per cent of the on-campus students visited the library that day (not counting those that came for audio-visual purposes) and that a third of them came more than once. This was the highest percentage among the 25 colleges and universities that took part in the survey.

What of activities other than reading? The record library, established in 1928, is doing more business than it formerly did with an augmented collection of LP’s. but the greatest development in non-book materials has come with the growth of the Audio-Visual Dept. in the new building. Viewing films in two classrooms, recording or listening to specially prepared tapes or records, looking at the latest exhibit arranged by the Art Dept., learning French, German, Spanish, or Russian in the language laboratory—these activities take up much of the space on the second floor. Their host is Ed Clark, who also provides in an audio-visual workroom tele-lecture equipment, overhead projectors, and other modern accessories for the classroom teacher. Kettering is one of the few libraries in the country to administer a fully equipped and flourishing audio-visual program.

Another department that has grown rapidly of late is Antiochiana. For years Bessie Totten collected and watched over with care and affection the many records of college history and the group of papers known as Manniana. In spite of the size of the collection, the long room on Kettering’s second floor seemed adequate to accommodate it until about two years ago. At that time we received the well-organized Straker collection of Mann and Elizabeth Peabody. And now in the offing are the many boxes of papers of Arthur E. Morgan, which have entered the long, arduous period of preparation. When the Morgan papers arrive and when other special collections are added, the space necessary for shelving, storage and use of Antiochiana will be at least twice what it is today.

In the 10-year program of growth for the college, plans call for a substantial addition to Kettering. We shall need more space for the Audio-Visual Dept. and Antiochiana, for more carrels and more microfilm readers. We have about five years to go before our bookshelving reaches its limit.

It isn’t just a matter of more space, of course. College administrators and librarians these days are talking of new learning techniques, of programmed learning and of automation. One or two have gone so far as to speak of carrels with all the learning tools electronically plugged in except for carpet slippers and a free lunch.

Antioch will take these new gadgets into account in planning its facilities for the coming decades. Yet many a student coming to a library doesn’t know what he is looking for, and a machine, though it speeds up the answer once it knows the question, has to have the right question first. It seems likely that a library at Antioch will continue to emphasize the personal. I quote from Paul Buck, recently retired as head of the Harvard University Library. His mammoth institution had just begun to automate one or two of its technical processes, but before leaving it librarian Buck remarked: “Technological innovation should be welcomed and fostered whenever it promises to reduce routine drudgery and to make the library more responsive to needs—whenever in other words, it promises to increase the humane quality of the library.” With that I agree—except that I would strike the “e” from “humane.” For Antioch at least the word should continue to be “human.”

*Dr. Patterson has been well known to two generations of chemists and librarians for his standard (with J.E. Crane) A Guide to the Literature of Chemistry. He also compiled French-English and German-English dictionaries for chemists, but I believe his longest days in the library were given over to The Ring Index, a List of Ring Systems Used in Organic Chemistry.