The Opening of the Campus and its First Library Space

The new campus formally opened in October of 1964. Richard Weigle describes the inaugural Friday night lecture by Dean Clarence (“Corky”) Kramer in the Great Hall as follows:

In his lecture the dean said that technique threatens to outstrip knowledge and that the scientist and layman have become estranged. But science and the liberal arts have a “common dedication for freedom.” Mutual distrust has arisen because science has become something of a “veiled” activity and has taken over, partly by default, the kind of authority once held by churches, courts, and universities. Kramer said that the liberal arts institution has both the ability and the duty to inquire where science encroaches on the political and social order. It must find a new common language to deal with the distrust.

Kramer discussed the role of the St. John’s Program in a nuclear age. He compared contemporary disorders to similar events in the history of the world and noted that works of literature and philosophy, influenced by historical events and movements, have applicability to the present day. He said that serious conversation must be restored to resolve modern problems and to re-establish communication among differing groups. The alternative would be a return to barbarism, a tendency to seek immediate remedies to conflicts by violence. Through serious dialogue, he said, human beings can accept their limitations and learn to reconcile their differences. He called serious dialogue our “way of saluting each other as humans,” and said that the role of the liberal arts is to fight against barbarism wherever civilization is in jeopardy. A lively question period followed the lecture, as is the St. John’s custom.

And so the Santa Fe campus was off and running. As for the library—with no dedicated building of its own yet, it was temporarily sited in the first-floor space of the student center, in what was intended to be (and is now) the location of the campus Bookstore.

The original Student Center Library in what is now the campus Bookstore space, on the weekend of the formal campus dedication, October 1964
Another view of the Student Center Library in what is now the campus Bookstore

But even this was not sufficient to store its relatively meager initial holdings, which soon began to spill over into unused spaces in other campus buildings, as this excerpt from the 1965-1966 Student Handbook already shows:

The college library has two locations. The Main Library, main floor of the Student Center, offers a variety of current periodicals and newspapers in addition to the book collection, indexes, and other reference works.  Besides its book collection, the Music and Science Library, Room 127 of the Laboratory Building, includes musical scores, records, and tapes.

Library hours are Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday and Wednesday 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., and Sunday 2 p.m. to 5 p.m….

Looking back in The Colonization of a College, Weigle states:

Efforts were made to fund a library building in 1966 and 1967. As early as 1965 my annual report to the Board stated that space had become a problem for the library. Temporary quarters in the future bookstore, a large basement room in the student center, and a laboratory and preparation room in the laboratory building were not sufficient to see the needs of the burgeoning collection. Thanks to Buddy Fogelson, detailed plans and specifications for the library building were ready to go out to bid, but a donor for the building was lacking. In February 1967 the Board authorized an application to the New Mexico State Commission under Title I of the Higher Education Facilities Act. The sum of $311,000 was sought for the library, conditional upon the College’s raising $622,000 in matching funds. The application was approved, but no matching funds were found to enable the College to claim the proffered grant. Pressure was brought to bear to release the Federal funds so that they could be made available to another institution. In the spring of 1968 the College accordingly surrendered its claim to the funds in the hope that they might be claimed again should matching funds become available. No assurances were given to the College on this score. Meanwhile, the collection had grown to exceed 15,000 books, phono-discs, phono-tapes, and musical scores. The main library still occupied space in the student center planned for the bookstore, but the mathematics, science, and music collections were moved to a new temporary home on the first floor of Calliope House in the women’s dormitory complex.

Elsewhere, Weigle writes:

Unfortunately, Buddy’s proposal for a library never materialized because it conflicted with the fundraising for the Western Consolidation Campaign.

That campaign was the first part of a larger and more encompassing campaign with a ten-year fundraising goal of $16,850,000 “to meet the building and endowment needs of the College on both its campuses.” The construction of a Santa Fe library building thus became bound up with this College-wide fundraising effort, to be completed in 1975. It is likely that, when that campaign was launched in 1965, no one ever imagined that it would take another 25 full years for this library building to actually come to fruition.

John Knego, the First Santa Fe Campus Librarian

Construction of the new campus had begun in earnest. But just as vital as the actual physical construction of the new campus was the selection of the faculty, staff, and students who would people it. The first slate of ten tutors for Santa Fe, as recommended by the two deans and the Instruction Committee, was comprised of two women and eight men, several of them (Clarence Kramer, William Darkey, Curtis Wilson, and Thomas Slakey) with a significant number of years of teaching on the Annapolis campus already under their belts, and one of them (Ford K. Brown) with a tenure at the College going all the way back to the founding of the New Program in 1937. A timely article published in March of 1963 in the widely read magazine Saturday Review, along with a newly released St. John’s admission film, brought the College a large wave of applicants for the fall of 1964, resulting in an incoming inaugural freshman class for Santa Fe of 84 students, 33 of them women and 51 men.

And along with these cohorts of faculty and students, to round out the academic side of the house, was the hiring of the campus’s first librarian, John Knego. In The Colonization of a College, Richard Weigle describes the campus library’s earliest beginnings:

Priority was given to the library for the new college, since it would take time to assemble a collection of reference works, class copies of Program books, and books on general subjects. Books had been given by a number of friends, but the first actual step was the appointment of John M. Knego as librarian at the May meeting of the Board in 1963. Knego was the first choice of the faculty committee. He held an M.A. degree in library science from Indiana University and had a working knowledge of the Greek, Latin, French, Italian, Russian, and Croatian languages. At the time of his appointment he was serving as reference librarian at the Kresge Science Library of Wayne State University, in Detroit. He spent the months of December and January 1963-64 in Annapolis acquainting himself with library needs and procedures before moving to Santa Fe at the beginning of February. Meanwhile the Annapolis librarian and the Library Committee of the faculty had been compiling titles of volumes which should be purchased for the Santa Fe library, primarily class copies, texts, and references and secondary books for the Program as a whole. The most helpful source of titles was found to be the Annapolis shelf list.

Temporary space for the library staff to work at accessioning was provided on the second floor of a building across San Francisco Street from the entrance to the La Fonda, a donation from the law firm of Seth, Montgomery, Federici, and Andrews. Four new appointments were made: Mrs. Florence van Dresser, secretary; Mrs. Margaret Frazier, library assistant; Mrs. Diana Chaffee, library assistant; and Ruby Rubideaux, cataloguer. My annual report at the end of the College’s first full year of operation pays tribute to the tremendous feat of building the new library’s book collection:

“John Knego, the Librarian, and his staff have wrought miracles in bringing the new library into being and in acquiring and cataloguing 6,675 volumes during this first year. An additional 7,000 volumes have been received, mostly by gift, and are yet to be acquisitioned. It would be impossible in this report to acknowledge the many donations to the Library, but mention should be made of the gifts of all publications by the Bollingen Foundation and of reprints of the Southwestern Classics by the Rio Grande Press of Chicago. Notable bequests of books were received from the late Edith Ames Crosley, Kenneth Foster, Grace Guest, and Robert Hunt.

The volunteer Library Committee of Santa Fe citizens and others, under the honorary chairmanship of Witter Bynner and the general chairmanship of Mrs. Alexander Girard, contributed importantly to the development of the Library. Through sponsoring benefits and through seeking Friends of the Library, this Committee obtained gifts of nearly $5,000 to endow the purchase of books and $4,360 in memberships for current book acquisitions.”

Greer Garson, a member of the Library Committee, had suggested the idea of making a gift to the College to endow purchase of a book each year forever. As a result there were fourteen perpetual book memorial endowments by the end of 1964 and twenty-two life memberships. Those figures nearly doubled in the first year of the College’s operation.

From an article in the Santa Fe New Mexican, May 10, 1964:

During one of the most delightful parties of early Spring, more than 400 friends of St. John’s College in Santa Fe were introduced Thursday to John M. Knego, librarian for the college, and his young charming wife, Mrs. Knego. Setting for the reception was The Palace with the two private dining rooms in use as well as the brick-paved, walled patio despite the gale-like breeze and its accompanying dust….Mrs. Alexander Girard is serving as chairman of the library committee with Witter Bynner as honorary chairman….The tea table in the gold room held an arrangement of Tropicana roses in an heirloom footed container while the table in the other room held a magnificent display of long-stemmed white roses with small pots of grape ivy encircling the base….Librarians from throughout the area were among the 400 or more guests attending the Thursday afternoon reception….Among the guests were members of the Scientific Library staff at Los Alamos, the Mesa Library there, the Public Library here, the Supreme Court Law Library as well as many who have extensive private libraries.

Also notable in this article is a photo of renowned painter and longtime New Mexico resident Georgia O’Keeffe, seen in attendance and mingling with the other guests.

Diana (Chaffee) Amsden, a Northern New Mexico native and UNM and Harvard-trained anthropologist and archaeologist who was one of that first cadre of librarians to catalogue the books that would become the initial library collection, recalled in an email to Meem Librarian Inga Waite in 2001:

The first librarian was John Knego. He was originally from Croatia, from which he and his wife were refugees; she had terrible memories, and his health was still affected….Mr. Knego was wonderful to work with. Charming, educated, and his English was entertaining; he always said “wolume” rather than “volume”. It was at this time that I learned to drive and he enjoyed jumping with alarm and running when he saw me approach in the driveway/parking lot. I still remember him with affection.

We used IBM typewriters with the type on a rolling ball; this was state-of-the-art. On rare occasions a gear would slip and all of the letters would come out wrong. The books were chosen by the faculty and Mr. Knego, and I suspect that the list was a copy of the card catalog at St. John’s at Annapolis.

At first we started in an upstairs room across the street from the La Fonda. Then we moved into what would become the cook’s apartment [now a storage area in the basement of Peterson Student Center], downstairs under what would be the library [now the Bookstore]. One of my fondest memories was our opening ceremonies. Mr. Meem took me into the dining room and turned on the [Alexander Girard designed] chandelier, a beautiful thing like a Swedish Christmas tree. He looked as happy as a little boy with a new toy. He was an endearing man. They were painting Mr. Girard’s symbols on the wall outside the library. Mrs. Girard was head of the Library Committee and was an elegant-looking and sweet-natured woman whom I liked very much.

I recall that the dining hall had a rule about wearing a necktie, so one student came in wearing his tie around his leg. There were some delightful students.

Another memory is our going for quite a few days to the home of someone (who shall remain nameless) who had bequeathed his library to St. John’s. We cataloged the books, each on a separate slip of paper. It was an impressive library—and we also found a few pornographic books!

Another happy memory is the films shown upstairs [in the Great Hall] periodically. There I first saw Carl Dreyer’s Passion of Joan of Arc, a silent film so taut that sound would have broken the intense mood. Later I saw it in Los Angeles at the Shriners’ Auditorium with orchestral accompaniment, and it was not nearly as effective as when silent.

Also, I had the privilege of taking a couple of seminars from Dean Kramer, and discovered how cheated I had been that the classics had not been part of my required curriculum. I had graduated with highest honors from UNM, then earned a Master’s at Harvard. I now have six degrees and know I am not educated by my standards because the classics were not there, and they are not only the foundations, but also the best thinking.