Opening address

Rites and Ceremonies - Library Building

University of Saskatchewan, Regina Campus
October 14, 1967

John H. Archer

The opening of a new route, by sea or by land, has always been looked upon as a triumph, a further milestone, on mankind’s march to material well-being. Certainly Canadians have felt the excitement of the opening of new routes. In Maritime Canada people think in terms of sea voyages and seaports. In prairie Canada people think of early trails and the building of railway stations. Each port, each station, is a visible, essential link with the wide world outside. It is true that the hope may not survive the history. Ports in the Maritimes did not share fully in the commercial activity stimulated by the building of a transcontinental railway. A railway station in Saskatchewan may stand to-day as a symbol, and only a symbol, of the olden days when trains ran on time, and on spur lines, also.

The opening of a library building is also a triumph, a further milestone on mankind’s forward march. For all its stone, steel and mortar it represents things of the mind rather than material well-being. It represents a significant gain for society - an earnest of man’s stake in the future and in future progress.

When I accepted the invitation to be present at the opening of this impressive and beautiful library I confess to having been carried away by the prospect of returning to Regina, of talking again with old friends and colleagues, and — is this the place to say it - of having another look at Taylor Field. Only later did I realize that with all this came a grave responsibility — that of delivering a short speech appropriate to the occasion. Historians among you may remember the book, The Scot in History, which quite persuaded certain readers that the Scots have a special brand of humour. It seems there was an Edinburgh man who died, and whose funeral attracted many friends. One friend asked if he might have one last look before the coffin was sealed. This was arranged. The friend viewed the body and, returning to the assembly, whispered to the widow “Aye he looks peaceful, and he has such a sweet smile on his face”. “Ah, yes”, said that good lady, “that’s Jack a’right”. ‘He was always slow on the uptake. “It’ll take him two or three days before he realizes exactly what’s happened to him”. I have begun to realize what has happened to me!

It was October 4, 1876 that a congress of librarians met in Pennsylvania to form the American Library Association. The President of the Historical Society, in whose quarters they met, welcomed them with a prophetic talk on library problems. He said in Part: “I see nothing which in coming years is to stand between the librarian and an issue upon him of books upon books, so vast and so uninterrupted that unless he brings the benefit of something like science to his aid he will be overwhelmed and buried in their very mass”.

He went on: It is plain….that before another century is over, immense edifices will be required to hold the volumes…What form of such large edifice will best unite external effect with capacity of extension - with safety, with convenience, and with beauty of interior? And how far…must that characteristic which delights the eye give way to that which saves the feet”.

And still on: Will it be practicable to continue through another century the formation of libraries, which shall contain all books upon every subject? Will not such libraries, if continued and formed tumble to pieces of their own weight? John Williams Wallace, an historian, was very modern in his thinking. I know that you might like to hear further on the problems he raises. But I am going to leave such problems to Mr. Harland and to Miss Pritchard who was a member of my staff at McGill — and to other members of the library empire.

And speaking about McGill, my immediate predecessor told me a delightful story of library service there. It seems that a very youthful professor of Philosophy presented himself at the service desk and found himself face to face with a formidable aged woman on the library staff. His account of the incident follows:

“I was momentarily non—plussed and when she had stared me down and asked me what I wanted I stammered — “the Kama Sutra”. “What do you want that book for”? she asked. I looked her in the eye and said, “So I can learn how better to make love”. She disappeared and after a long long wait, a male page brought me the book. I never did see her again”.

Rather than talk to this captive audience about libraries I wish to treat briefly of a more serious matter. This concerns libraries, certainly, and it concerns the university, also. More than that, it concerns all of us. I refer to mounting evidence, affronting us daily, of a serious breakdown in the unity of society. Saskatchewan has never been a closed province or a closed society and though the things I say may not yet seem to affect this audience, this institution, directly, they willy, I expect, strike some responsive chord. I am not going to attempt to draw any historical parallels though civilizations have been subject to breakdown. It is enough that we recognize the signs of these times.

Whilst the twentieth century opened with the lively expectation that progress was thenceforth inevitable and that war was finally removed from the language of society - perhaps even of diplomacy - this same century, two—thirds over, has been the bloodiest yet experienced. Progress there has been in the scientific and technical fields. There has also been a quickening of social consciences in many places. Nevertheless there is a rift opening between scientist and humanist as our social conscience creeps in the wake of hurrying science. It is argued that since 1945 there have been those who “believe in” being moral - as opposed to those who “believe in”, being scientific. This is unfair to the scientists, I think, for one is reminded that if blame attaches to the man or men who made the atomic bomb - blame also attaches to the man or men who made the decision to use it in warfare. The riots during the long hot summer in the U.S.A., the violence in Africa, the turbulence in Asia, illustrate with a sickening clarity the debasement of our civilized estate. There is on this continent and in Europe an evident rift between the “camp” and the”uncamp” - and I intend no pun. Yorkville and the “hippies” are evidence of a deeper rift between the state of youth and the state of society.

I recall reading, a short while back, a booklet entitled The Challenge of Our Time - I believe this was a series of lectures broadcast on the B. B. C. One episode, in particular, stuck in my memory. You will remember that on January 18, 1912, Captain Scott and four companions reached the South Pole, after a march of sixty—nine days. On the return Journey Evans became ill and was at once a burden on the party. Captain Scott was faced with a decision -to take Evans along, at a slower pace, and risk perdition for all, — or tp abandon the sick man and march on with all speed. Scott took the first course and the party was caught in a blizzard. Oates sacrificed himself. Rations ran out. In June 1912 the frozen bodies of the four men were found ten miles — one day’s march-from the next supply depot. Had Evans been sacrificed the party would probably have survived.

This dilemma faced by Scott under such adverse physical conditions symbolizes the tragic conflict in man’s nature. It has been termed the conflict between expediency and morality. It is an old, recurring conflict but until our century was thought of as a lonely personal conflict. Let us put Scott’s dilemma in modern political terms. Evans is Czechoslovakia — the sacrifice of this small country will buy the safety of bigger ones - it is hoped. At the signing of the Ribbentro¥$ - Molotov Pact, the Poles go the way of the Czechs. In the name of expediency Hitler orders the murder of incurables, those mentally deficient and then Gypsies and Jews. In the name of expediency the Western democracies loose the atomic bomb on a civilian target. The logic of expediency in our high pressure society leads to the atomic disintegration of morality.

There was a second alternative before Scott. This course emphasizes respect for the individual, rejection of violence and the belief that the Means determine the End. We know what happened to Scott because he did not sacrifice Evans. He died and his companions died with him. Not gloriously — but in privation and suffering. Norway once rejected armed aid - she is now supporting N.A.T.0. We can surely foresee what would have happened to the people of India if every Indian leader had adopted a policy of non-resistance to Japanese and to Chinese threats. Pacificism in 1939 would not have tempered the evil then loose on the world.

No arguments are unanswerable - but it does appear that both paths run to disaster. And is not this the dilemma we face at each step in our daily affairs. The more responsible the position you hold, the sharper the horns of the dilemma. There is no final solution but yet in each new era men must attempt a temporary solution to meet the needs. There seems to be but two guidelines. The first is the lesson of history which indicates that hitherto a certain degree of ruthlessness has been inseparable from human progress. The second is the realisation that the End only Justifies the Means within very narrow limits.

The dilemma facing governments and universities - those in positions of authority - is sharpened in our day by the unmitigated brutality of our times. At the same time the rapidity of scientific advance has greatly weakened tradition. Children of the space age can scarcely communicate with parents of the agricultural frontier. The Christian Church has stirred to meet the challenge of secularism rampant but is it not symbolic of the times that a bishop of the Anglican Church has not thought it necessary to resign his see before announcing to the World that God the Father is dead. There has indeed been a wide, deep erosion of the moral bases of social authority. Nether the family nor the church can any longer lay claim to the former primacy of place in the rearing of the young. For better or for worse, the state and its agencies have paramount place.

One notable consequence of the breaking of society’s bands and the substitution of impersonal authorities has been the dehumanizing of government. One result of decisions to permit mass bombing of cities, has been the counter decision on the part of a segment of the nation to “opt out” of organized society. I am not sure but that this instinct is a deeply human one. Certainly it is after the manner of the early Christians for did not Tertullian, an early Christian father, write thusly to the Roman Emperor:

“I owe no obligation to forum, campus or senate. I stay awake for no public function. I make no effort to monopolize the platform. I pay no heed to any administwative duty. I shun the voter’s booth and the juryman’s bench…I serve neither as magistrate or soldier. I have withdrawn from the life of secular society”.

Not all the youth of our day would “opt out”. Many in our universities would “opt in” and are demanding a share in the operation, and in the policy-making procedures, of universities. As Douglas LePan told a Queen’s University audience last spring — youth is the new class and it rises with an inherent democratic bias. Almost half of the people of Canada are under twenty—five years of age.

Nor can this large segment of our society be quietened or reassured by an appeal to be thankful for what the older generation has done for them.

We face a dilemma today compounded of dilemmas but half resolved yesterday. We can’t go back to the so-called “normality” of the twenties — even if we would.

We can’t go home to a world that doesn’t have atomic bombs. We can’t escape from the spell of science — and I remind you that it was the universities that subverted nineteenth century physics, nineteenth century chemistry, and nineteenth century medicine. We must bridge the gulf that exists between that way of life and this way of life. We must melt the solitude that has settled between the pre-war generation and the post-war generation. And we face another dilemma here. On what stable sands will we build our end of the arch? And on what planet will the other end of the span fall?

Universities cannot practice the aloofness with which the ancient East faced the impact of Rome:

The East bowed low before the blast, In patient, deep disdain; She let the legions thunder past, And plunged in thought again.

It is heresy, surely, to maintain the doctrine that the only business of the university is to turn out expert specialists. As Ortega exclaimed “How brutal and how stupid and yet how aggressive is the man learned in one thing and fundamentally ignorant in all else”. It is, on the other hand, the fundamental role of the university “to unite young and old in the imaginative understanding which illuminates facts” — if I may quote Sir Walter Moberley at St. Andrews, in 1951.

The University must put into the hands of the coming generation not only the facts and the learning, but the techniques of handling knowledge which underlie 911 learning. The student must have the feeling of being on tiptoe, on the verge of an intellectual and cultural experience that is both of the past, and yet is going on, and will be going on. At the same time the university must develop through residences, colleges, unions, seminars, an academic substitute for the family and parish influences which cemented society in earlier days. Faculty members must go out of their way to mix with those whose background, race and nationality are different, to help knit up the ravelled threads of a fragmented secular society.

The library must play a primary role in uniting old and young in imaginative understanding. It must convince the scientist that it can meet his needs and aid him in his world of research. It must provide the humanist a variety of resources in many strange and exotic fields. Let the fields be broad and the kinds of material unlimited. If you have Hancock’s works you should also have Rider Haggard’s - if Clarendon’s, then Irwin’s — if Gibbon then Talbot Mundy. To my mind there is no better way of “feeling” the atmosphere of Arthurian Britain than to read Sword at Sunset. No history that I have read gives a better picture of a gladiatorial combat in Caesar’s Rome than Tros of Samothrace.

You may call me a romanticist in all this. I am an historian too. I remind my colleagues in the library world what a former librarian of Congress, Archibald MacLeish, wrote:

We dwell, On the half earth, on the open curve of a continent Sea is divided from sea by the dayfall. The dawn Rides the low east with us many hours; First are the capes, then are the shorelands, now The blue Appalachians faint at the day rise; The willows shudder with light on the long Ohio; The Lakes scatter the low sun; the prairies Slide out of dark; in the eddy of clean air The smoke goes up from the high plains of Wyoming.

We dwell on this northern half earth. Here is a new and lively society with a heritage that has in it still something of the robust faith of the land-seeker, the optimism of our nineteenth century past, the fortitude of the frontier, the lessons of the thirties. Saskatchewan, more than any other area in Canada, has enriched Canadian thought and Canadian society with lessons in practical idealism - and I speak here both of the record in economic democracy and of the concern for the citizen’s welfare, translated into legislation. Here in Saskatchewan the voice of community leadership is not yet choked by the smoke of riots; nor yet strident and hoarse— from the debate on biculturalism. There is then, a special responsibility to lead as there is a greater chance for success.

You in the universities represent one of the last strongholds of responsibility, objectivity and moral courage. Even though you do not, and cannot, know all the answers you must act. You must not be deterred by lack of guideposts or absolute standards, or by the fear of blame falsely laid. Your task is to provide the means, the thought, the effort necessary for the creation of a human environment where those who enter may, united in purpose, seek the fulfilment of older dreams in a new promise.

You in the library must be more than efficient to do your part. You are custodians of objective fact. You operate the gadgetry for scientific research. Be mechanized, bright, shiny and space—minded. But be humanist and romanticist as well. You must provide resources to serve the needs of science - be sure you have them. Be sure your library also has the resources for the soul — poetry, religion, drama, fiction and philosophic works.

Your library has well — lit carrels where the scientist may sift evidence. Make sure also that somewhere in the library there are quiet, shadowy niches where the meditative spirit may venture on new flights. Let there be information retrieval, surely, but let there also be value retrieval. You must supply the resources. You must also give the service. Open“ the doors and let in all mankind who seek answers. Let in the old and the young - the scholar_and the stripling — the bearded and the long—haired - the mod and the mini. Above all let in the youth. Help these to interpret the call of the trumpet notes that sound faint in their ears. Our ears have grown dull. Help the young with their clear-eyed candour find fulfilment of those same dreams that lie unfulfilled and broken in our cupboards. Help the earnest and the hurried find sure standing in our society for the time comes when they must reach for the stars.

If you do all this you will justify the faith of the founders of this University. They saw a vision as wide and as fair as the prairie scene. If you do all this you will, perhaps, dissolve the solitude between generations. One culture will sit easily with another culture. There will be no rift between scientist and humanist. And if you do all this we will not need a Gibbon to record our decline and fall.

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