I was going to write about something entirely different today. But last night about 6 pm, I got a call from a young guy at University of Massachusetts, asking me for an alumni donation to the Library Fund. We talked about what he was studying (bio and psych) and his plans for the future (stay in school if possible) and why he liked the library (same reason I had: for total escape.) So I donated my $100 for today to the W.E.B. Du Bois Library. And that set me off on a nostalgia trip that I’m sorry to say I’m going to drag you through.
I went to UMass from 1971-1974 (I graduated in 3 ½ years – one of the stupidest decisions of my life since I practically killed myself to get out early, only to launch myself into a career as a daytime cocktail waitress in Colorado). I loved pretty much every minute of my time at UMass, and I adored the library.
It was really controversial, brand new, the tallest library in the U.S. at 26 floors and 297 feet, and kind of an aberration as it sits right in the middle of campus and towers over everything. And it’s not particularly pretty. But…once you’re inside, you can go to the upper floors, wedge yourself into one of the nooks that look out over the whole Pioneer Valley and gorgeous Berkshires, and that is absolute heaven. I wrote all my papers there (it’s totally wireless now, but this was way before computers, kids) and felt like I was floating above the world.
In 1994, UMass named the library after W.E.B. Du Bois and that made me even prouder of my alma mater. Du Bois was one of the most influential African Americans in U.S. history, born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts and raised as the precocious, intellectual, mixed- race son of a struggling single mother. He was the first African American to graduate from Harvard with a Ph.D in History and Economics, and went on to become a civil rights activist, Pan Africanist, sociologist, historian, head of the NAACP, teacher, editor and author. In his lifetime of turbulent, brilliant intellectual pursuit, he produced more than 4,000 articles, essays, books, novels, and academic journals – and UMass is the fortunate recipient of his papers. What a perfect scholar to name a library after!
Tonight is the Eighth Annual Dinner with Friends of the Library in Amherst, so I’m naming myself an honorary Friend and celebrating my long-time affection for the big guy. Sure, it dropped a few bricks on people’s heads back in the day (weird construction error) but that’s long forgotten. Now the Library’s all fancied up with a new Learning Commons area of 30,000 square feet, seating for 436, and 25 group study rooms.
But if I were there, I’d still head straight up to the 22nd floor, wedge myself into a window, and think big Berkshire thoughts. Like this one:
“A University is a human invention for the transmission of knowledge and culture from generation to generation, through the training of quick minds and pure hearts, and for this work no other human invention will suffice…” ~W.E. B. Du Bois, 1903