In 1966 George Miller, an Annapolis graduate (AN’52) with eleven years of experience at the New York Public Library, became the next Santa Fe Head Librarian, staying on in this position through 1969 while also serving as a part-time tutor. Over the first four years of the new campus’s existence, its library holdings doubled in size, as the following archival data shows:
1965: 9,236 items
1966: 11,629 items
1967: 14,324 items
1968: 18,074 items
These numbers may seem small in light of the Meem Library’s current holdings of some 70,000 items, but for a library collection that literally began from nothing, they represent both the prodigious effort of these early librarians to quickly build a collection commensurate with the quality and breadth of our College’s curriculum, and also the generosity of many Santa Feans who donated works from their own personal libraries to help flesh out the College’s fledgling collection.
Alice Whelan, who arrived as a cataloguer in 1967, had previously worked at the Atlanta Public Library and later as Humanities Reference Room Librarian at the University of Maryland. After three years of cataloguing at St. John’s, and following an illness that compelled George Miller to resign, Mrs. Whelan became the Santa Fe campus’s third Head Librarian, supervising an Assistant Librarian, a Secretary, and a Reader’s Services Librarian. This was a position she would hold for more than a decade, until 1980, after which she would stay on for another two years as a part-time bibliographer and consultant.
Ms. Whelan’s correspondence, much of which remains in the archives, makes for interesting reading. As just one example–upon receipt of an unsolicited annual report of public school educational statistics from the office of Harry Wugalter, the New Mexico Secretary of Education, Ms. Whelan wrote back:
Dear Mr. Wugalter,
Thank you for the accompanying publications. They make an impressive corpus, and I am sure an invaluable source in the right place. However, inasmuch as St. John’s College has no courses in education, nor even education-related courses, they would find no use here whatsoever. I think them too valuable to lie unused and so am returning them.
You might note, on whatever list of institutions you keep, that St. John’s is an inappropriate recipient for such materials. We receive such publications from time to time, and I deplore the waste.
Respectfully yours, Alice H. Whelan
In 1968 a Friends of the Library group started up under the chairmanship of Richard Stern, a Santa Fe resident and novelist whose works include an Edgar Award winner and a thriller that later served as inspiration for the 1974 blockbuster film The Towering Inferno. Stern was an avid supporter of both the literary arts and the St. John’s Library, and for the next decade he would be responsible for arranging a steady stream of readings by contemporary writers running the gamut from children’s author Judy Blume and novelist John Knowles to science fiction writer Roger Zelazny and budding mystery writer Tony Hillerman, whose Navajo Tribal Police novels would go on to become national bestsellers over the next four decades. Stern’s Friends of the Library group served both to raise the local profile of the College and to raise money for additional Library book acquisitions. In a letter to a professional colleague at Marlboro College in Vermont, Alice Whelan wrote:
As to starting a Friends of the Library organization, the best advice I can offer is that you find a Dick Stern. Do you know him? It is really under his personal aegis that the whole thing has evolved. There was a Library Associated Committee even before the school was actually built, but it became really active only after he became chairman four years ago…. I think part of its success is due to the variety of ways of giving offered for potential donors. The lists of suggested specific titles have brought us some wonderful items we could not have had except as gifts. I try to make each year’s list represent as many subject areas as possible, over a wide range of prices. The Book-and-Author luncheons have been very popular. We have them in the largest dining room in Santa Fe, the New Mexico Room at the La Fonda, which seats three hundred. It is always very nearly filled….Another serendipitous benefit has been establishing relationships with many in the town who had never had a direct contact with the school before.