Several dozen people gathered on the sidewalk in front of the Newberry Library on a bright, sunny morning recently, waiting for the library to open. Among them were 14 college students, newly arrived in Chicago for the ACM Newberry Seminar: Research in the Humanities.
At 9 o’clock, the Newberry’s stately doors swung open. Taking the lead, the students climbed the steps to the spacious lobby, where they were warmly welcomed by applause and greetings from the library’s assembled staff.
Just a typical day at the Newberry? Well, no – and yes.
Newberry Library President David Spadafora holds the door on the library’s 125th anniversary.
Photo courtesy of the Newberry Library
Thursday, September 6, was 125 years to the day since the Newberry Library first opened its doors to the public. With their entrance that morning, the students played a role in a brief, elegant ceremony marking the start of a year-long celebration of the library’s 125th Anniversary, or as the staff call it, “quasquicentennial.” Two exhibits about the library and its collections opened that day, and commemorative events are planned throughout the year.
Educational outreach has been part of the Newberry’s programming from the early years after its founding. For more than one-third of the library’s existence – since 1965 – it has hosted the ACM seminar, opening the resources of the Newberry and its remarkable collections to students from colleges in the ACM and the Great Lakes Colleges Association (GLCA).
Since 2005, there has been an added ACM-Newberry connection through the library’s President and Librarian, David Spadafora. Prior to joining the Newberry, Spadafora was at ACM member Lake Forest College, including eight years as President. As a faculty member at the college, he taught the Newberry Seminar one semester.
While the rare maps, illuminated manuscripts, and millions of other treasures within the library’s walls are central to the students’ learning during their semester of off-campus study, the Newberry’s reference librarians and other staff have always been a vital part of the seminar, as well. The students truly are welcomed into the Newberry’s community of scholars. In that sense, the reception the students received on September 6 was, indeed, “typical.”
Newberry Seminar students and Faculty Fellow David Miller (2nd on the steps) were among those taking part in the 125th Anniversary event.
Photo courtesy of the Newberry Library
Library staff serve as guides and informal mentors for students, introducing the group to specific collections, helping students learn to navigate the catalog system, and suggesting ways to search for materials relevant to the students’ research interests.
The librarians also are instrumental giving an orientation to the Faculty Fellows who co-teach the seminar. Brian Bockelman, Assistant Professor of History at Ripon College, and David Miller, Professor of English at Allegheny College, will lead this fall’s seminar on the topic of “Wild Cities: The Nature of the Modern Metropolis.”
“The Newberry is a great center for learning,” Miller said, noting that a fundamental premise of the seminar is that students are at Newberry to improve their research skills. Toward that end, the program begins with readings and discussions on the seminar’s theme, along with explorations of the Newberry’s holdings. With the professors’ guidance, the students each select a topic, conduct independent research, write a substantial research paper, and present the results of their work to the Newberry community.
“I can’t imagine a better place to carry out a research and writing project in the United States,” Bockelman added. “The way the staff and Faculty Fellows interact, it just seems like the right kind of feeling, the right environment.”
- Newberry Seminar: Research in the Humanities
- The Newberry Library and events for the 125th Anniversary
- Read more about the Newberry Seminar in articles about program alumni Scott Heerman and Virginia Henry and the fall 2012 seminar leaders, Brian Bockelman and David Miller