Library News
Haven of Solitude or Social-service Engine? A library offers different strokes for different folks
October 10, 2017

As a University of Illinois graduate student, Carla Barnwell had her own study carrel in the Main Library stacks—and she  relished the environment.

“I loved being surrounded by books,” the retired biology teacher said. “It’s an environment that’s really unique, and I have a great appreciation for it. I am all about learning and knowledge.”

For Eileen Gebbie, the library encounter is entirely different. Rather than classic solitude, she gravitates to the interactive nature of library resources. In her view, a library has evolved into a “de facto community center,” its power more social service- than research-oriented. It’s a setting, said the ordained minister, that can teach us that ours is not “the only story.”

The Barnwell-Gebbie experiences point to the steady—yet organic—nature of what a great library offers. At the University of Illinois, its renowned resources have been carefully nurtured through 150 years of stewardship—from the donation of 644 books from its first regent, John Gregory, through the 1-million-books-or-bust vision of University President Edmund J. James in the early 1900s, to the personal support from individual alumni.

A number of libraries surface in Carla’s memories of campus, a time when backdrops of books captivated her imagination. “I loved walking through the Library,” she said of her undergraduate days, “like passing by the Classics Library, and knowing what’s in there and that people care about preserving it.” Now a resident of Boone, Iowa, Carla received a bachelor’s degree in biology (1978) and a master’s degree in accountancy (1985). “Knowing that knowledge is preserved . . . that’s important to me,” she said. “I’m old-fashioned. I believe in knowledge for knowledge’s sake.”

Carla, who later taught biology in the 1990s at what was then known as the UI School of Life Sciences, said she “lived in the biology library” as an undergraduate but also served as a desk clerk in the library science library. There, LIS students from a wide range of academic backgrounds enlivened her work hours.

While earning a master’s degree in sociology (2000), Eileen helped undergraduates discern the validity of online resources. But as valuable as libraries are for research, she said, “the sociologist and pastor in me hopes that they  become places that teach us how to be in community together across all of our divisive differences,” places with “deep wells of story” that broaden individuals’ perceptions. And when Eileen learned more about Illinois’ Mortenson Center for International Library Programs, she became even more passionate about the Library’s mission.

For Carla and Eileen—married since 2006—nothing even came close to the Library when they considered options in their estate planning. “A big part of my job. . .is to connect people to good resources for  community  organizing  and understanding successes of the past,” said Eileen. “And we need libraries so badly for all of that.”

Added Carla: “The Library is the thing that’s so vitally important to what the University is all about. It’s an incredibly valuable asset. And we love knowing we will be part of sustaining that.”

Do you have a story you’d like added to the Library News & Events? If so, please contact Heather Murphy