A cynic about teachers--or perhaps a romantic about students--once defined the university as consisting of two essential parts: the library and the printing press.
With all due respect for the splendid faculty at UCLA, we must regard its 6-million-volume University Research Library as at least a semi-distinct institution. Were the university to die, the library could live on.
This thought comes to mind because of the death this month, at 80, of Robert Gordon Vosper, the university’s distinguished second librarian and the man who dedicated the research library in 1966.
Vosper is well remembered for his ability to blend sly wit, professional excellence and institutional sagacity in agreeably unpredictable measures as the occasion might require.
The library that Vosper helped build, for the millions who have used it over the years, including many who have never taken and never will take a course, may be the university’s strongest claim on public devotion and the public purse. The library may not bring in revenue, but it builds a long-term institutional loyalty that counts with taxpayers.
In a time when the perceived importance of the library seems to be dropping even in university circles, the priority-setters could do worse than to recall Vosper’s words on a plaque in the University Research Library:
“If we mean, as we do, to support creative, imaginative research and inspired scholarship, UCLA must have a library rich in the whole history of man’s intellectual and cultural life, crystallized, as it is, and presented in books.”