Monday, December 11, 2006
A Visit to the Marion E. Wade Center: C. S. Lewis, J. R. Tolkien, and Friends.
One of the great Thomas Ford Memorial Library traditions is the December staff outing to see another library. Every year Director Anne Kozak picks a library that she thinks that we will enjoy visiting and from which we will learn about different library missions, collections, and methods. This year we closed our library for a day and visited the Marion E. Wade Center on the edge of the Wheaton College campus in Wheaton, Illinois. The Wade Center has a museum and research library devoted to the study of seven English authors - C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, G. K. Chesterton, George MacDonald, Dorothy L. Sayers, J. R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams.
Upon entering the building, visitors find a small museum devoted to the authors in which there are several very impressive items, including the little desk at which Tolkien wrote The Hobbit and parts of The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the wardrobe that belonged to the grandparents of C. S. Lewis, said to have inspired his stories about Narnia. Also in the room are C. S. Lewis' desk from Oxford and his dining room table. Around the room are changing exhibits about the authors, their works, and how their works have been translated into films and other adaptations. I liked one of the cases that showed a photo of Sayers with a pair of her reading glasses and her telephone contact book. The exhibits are attractive. The staff of the Wade Center have developed great skill in making reproductions from originals; the tour guide assured us that they had not really glued original works onto their display boards.
A display in a hallway leading to the library told the story of the center's development. Key points were the friendship of Wheaton College professor Clyde S. Kilby with C. S. Lewis and the critical funding from Marion E. Wade, who founded Servicemaster Corporation. The center moved into its current building in 2001.
The Kilby Reading Room houses a collection of books by and about the seven authors that may be read in the room. Included in the collection are translations of the works in many languages. An adjoining room includes serials, reproductions of letters, and dissertations. The rare original letters and manuscripts are stored in climate control rooms downstairs.
We were surprised to find that the collection has no catalogue as yet. When the physical arrangement is insufficient, researchers have to rely on staff to find materials for them. I hope the staff uses new technology and ideas to create a catalogue that will work for the Center and serve as a model for libraries needing to replace their stodgy old tools.
Besides the collection, what sets the Marion Center apart from most libraries is its beauty and comfort. I know I would enjoy spending many hours reading at the desks or in the comfy chairs in the reading room. The center is open to the public for casual or serious research of the seven authors.