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Last modified: Friday, June 17, 2005

Remarks from Wells Library naming ceremony

JUNE 17, 2005

EDITORS: Below are remarks by Adam W. Herbert, president of Indiana University; and Suzanne E. Thorin, Ruth Lilly University Dean of university libraries, delivered today (June 17) at the naming of the Herman B Wells Library at IU Bloomington.

Adam W. Herbert

"The mission of a great university is the preservation, creation and communication of knowledge. If one contemplates that mission, it is obvious that the very heart of any university is its library. On the adequacy of that facility rests the university's reputation and the quality of her educational programs. On that also rests her capacity to attract excellent faculties, scholars of all types, and concerned, interested and dedicated students."

Thirty-five years ago, IU's vice president for academic affairs, Joseph Hartley, made this statement at the dedication ceremony for this library building. At that point, this was one of the best university library facilities in existence. It held 2,700,000 volumes.

Today it contains some 5 million of the university's 7 million books, as well as thousands of manuscripts, microforms and journals. IU's library holdings consistently rank among the top 20 academic research collections in the nation. The library provides our faculty, students and citizens with an outstanding collection of print, audio visual and electronic resources, including the latest links to Web-based information. Around the clock, highly resourceful and knowledgeable reference librarians and user services specialists stand ready to help us navigate a constantly expanding information landscape.

At that dedication ceremony 35 years ago, Chancellor Wells said he felt confident that we would not let this library languish in the future. In so doing, he echoed the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who offered this caution to young scholars: "Be a little careful about your library. Do you foresee what you will do with it? Very little to be sure. But the real question is, what will it do with you? You will come here and get books that will open your eyes and your ears and your curiosity and turn you inside out or outside in."

Chancellor Wells cared deeply about the IU library. He was its greatest champion. He knew of its power to transform our conception of ourselves and the world in which we live. He knew how first-rate research collections and a welcoming library environment enhance our ability to live the life of the mind. Generations of IU students have discovered how to do just that as they browsed the library stacks -- or, more recently, searched the Internet -- and learned to follow the thread of a question to its logical conclusion.

Chancellor Wells often said, "When you plan for the university, you should plan for a thousand years." Given his commitment to the institution's progress, I think he would be pleased -- and perhaps somewhat surprised -- by recent developments in the library.

Students are engaged in study and collaborative learning 24/7 in the library's Information Commons. In fact, we now have two information commons. The first, which we dedicated in the fall of 2003, was so successful that we opened another this year.

I am sure Chancellor Wells also would be impressed by such developments as our Digital Library project. This project preserves and makes immediately accessible such treasures as songwriter Hoagy Carmichael's entire body of work, Sir Isaac Newton's original theories, and the stories, novels and poems of Victorian women writers, just to name a few. The Digital Library project assures that these and other artifacts of our culture will be available for the next thousand years.

It is easy to assume that the rapid pace of technological innovation may alter the role the library plays in our community of scholars. Conceivably, within our lifetimes, laptops and PCs will be able to hold the entire digitized contents of large university research libraries such as this one. Already, we can do our research in the comfort of our own homes and offices, accessing electronically many of the scholarly journals and much of the data we require.

I am very confident that Chancellor Wells would be pleased to see that, even in this era when we have such vast amounts of information literally at our fingertips, the library remains a vital intellectual gathering place and the very heart and soul of the university. This fact would reaffirm the principles by which he led this great institution.

Over the course of his lifelong relationship with Indiana University, Herman Wells walked the paths of this beautiful campus as a student, as a faculty member, as the university's president, and during the last decades of his life, as the institution's chancellor and guiding light.

In each role, he lived the best values of Indiana University, constantly striving to raise the institution to even higher levels of distinction. In 1962, when he ended his 25-year tenure as IU's president, he was known far and wide as the man who transformed this small Midwestern college into a research university of international renown.

Today, as we name the library in his honor, we should not assume that we are establishing a memorial to a bygone golden age. Rather, we are underscoring the power of knowledge to make real the promises of the future. Generations of students and faculty will continue to lay claim to that promise as they partake of the vast worlds of wisdom and information which can be accessed within these walls. And they will do so inspired by the same abiding faith that Herman Wells championed with such passion, effectiveness, grace and distinction. His faith was in the transformative power of knowledge -- in its power to "open our eyes and ears and curiosity, to turn us inside out and outside in."

Suzanne Thorin

"Good afternoon. I am honored to speak to you today and to represent the Indiana University Libraries on behalf of many proud librarians and staff. Nearly all of us -- like you -- have stories and fond memories of Herman Wells.

Coming to Bloomington from Washington, D.C., I knew Chancellor Wells by reputation only. Even before I arrived on campus, he sent me a book to introduce me to the university: It was his book, Being Lucky, in which he reflected on his remarkable life and his enduring association with IU.

He wrote a lovely welcome note in which he referred to himself as an "ancient alumnus." I used the note as a bookmark, and I still have it today.

Chancellor Wells' book taught me much about IU, and I learned in my earliest days here what others have also learned, and what many more have known far longer, and what we all cherish: that Indiana University would not be what it is today without the loving influence and vision of Herman B Wells. He believed fiercely in the power of higher education for Indiana citizens, he positioned IU internationally, he set the highest standards. And he left an inspiring legacy.

That the Indiana University Libraries will now be forever linked with Herman Wells is a joyous and wonderful honor. I am deeply grateful to the Trustees and to President Herbert for naming the library in his memory.

Chancellor Wells left an indelible mark on the library: in his final years he lived just across the street -- on the opposite side of the building -- in the low white house on Tenth Street, where he could see the library's limestone towers from his picture window.

He regarded IU's libraries fondly. Thirty-five years ago, he spoke at the dedication of this building, at a ceremony here on the south lawn. When I knew Chancellor Wells, in his 90s, he was a regular visitor to the Lilly Library and loyally attended dinners for the Fine Arts Library. He celebrated the 30-year anniversary of this very building at a party we hosted in the lobby.

Chancellor Wells sent me occasional notes: one about Brown County photographs the Digital Library Program had recently put online. He wanted me to know that in the years he summered in Brown County, his neighbor was the photographer, Frank Hohenberger. A mutual friend had arranged for Hohenberger to donate the collection to IU. It remains one of our most popular image collections.

Chancellor Wells' gifts of personal attention and time earned him the respect and admiration of so many librarians. More importantly, of course, Chancellor Wells made the libraries what they are today. The number of books in the library collections grew six-fold during his tenure as president. By establishing and fostering area studies programs, he encouraged librarians to gather resources to support scholarship and teaching. The resulting international collections are today among the best in the nation: many are irreplaceable and used by scholars from around the world. They have helped to secure IU's position as home to one of the nation's foremost academic research libraries. Yet -- never one to rest on his achievements -- when asked at the end of his presidency what he'd do differently, he responded, "I'd put more money into the library collections."

Today we celebrate the naming of this building in honor of our visionary and beloved Chancellor Wells. It is a wonderful tribute. But Herman Wells would not want us to rest on our achievements. This structure, which he built to house our prized book collections, must now be renovated completely both to repair the infrastructure and to accommodate the needs of today's faculty and students. Only then can we fulfill the potential of this library within this great public university.

I look forward to celebrating with you again, here on the campus we love, at the rededication of the newly renovated Herman B Wells Library. Thank you."