The Colby Library Associates: Brief History

“The Library Is Inside: The Colby Library Associates” by Meghan Kelly, Class of 2017

In their own words, the organization of the Colby Library Associates “makes possible the purchase of works which often could not be afforded within the library budget (1). Though founded in the midst of the great campus move from downtown Waterville to Mayflower Hill, the Associates focused not on the construction of new buildings but on buying books and materials for the inside of the iconic Miller Library, something which set them apart from the rest of the college. As their founder Frederick Pottle wrote in 1941, “Remember: a library is not a building. The library is inside” (2). The Associates took great pride in this contrast, seeing their work as a contribution to the tradition of scholarship at Colby. They dedicated themselves to the library so single-mindedly that they used membership dues primarily or exclusively for books (3). The Associates balanced the different needs of the collection, buying materials across disciplines and for the general and reference collections, though a significant share of purchases was for the Robinson Treasure Room. Some members wanted to buy books which many students would use, while others favored rare books and manuscripts for the Treasure Room. Pottle insisted that general and reference books should be a priority for the organization: “The curse of Library Associates’ groups is exclusive addiction to…‘Rare-Bookmanism’…I cannot tell you what satisfaction it gives me to see us adding to the Colby collections such…sturdy, useful, unpretentious and not-very-rare work[s]” (4). Yet Pottle suffered from the same “‘Rare-Bookmanism”’ of many Associates, writing that “bread-and-butter books do not inflame us with a passion for learning for its own sake. Old books, rare books, sometimes do—even if we have only seen them displayed in a case” (5). The belief that rare materials would incite scholarship among students became a hallmark of the organization’s collecting philosophy.

Beyond adding to collection, the Associates hoped to create a culture of literary and library engagement on campus. To that end, the organization held regular events accompanied by exhibits from Special Collections, in which speakers addressed members and the Colby community on literary, artistic, and historic topics related to library holdings. Maine author Henry Beston gave a lecture (6), and Colby classics instructor Henry J. Dell discussed advances in the study of the languages of ancient Greece and Crete (7). The Associates hoped that the lectures and displays of rare materials would create enthusiasm for books and the library among students and faculty, motivating future donations. The Associates’ goal of supporting faculty research appears in both the talks given by professors and the organization’s efforts to purchase books that the faculty needed for their research (8). The Associates believed that assisting professors’ research would benefit their students as well, furthering scholarship on multiple levels.

The Associates valued student engagement, which they achieved in several ways. Students periodically delivered the talks, enabling the Associates to support undergraduate scholarship directly. At one meeting, students Barbette Blackington and Arthur Kimball lectured on the paintings of Joseph Turner and John Ruskin (9). According to Pottle, the meetings offered “almost the only opportunity the undergraduates have to meet informally with members of the Faculty to discuss matters of literature and scholarship” (2). In 1948, the Associates established the office of two student vice presidents, who served as a “go-between between students and faculty” and recruited student members (10, 11). To encourage students to join, the Associates discounted the undergraduate membership to fifty cents per year, while regular members paid five dollars (12, 13). Members could either pay dues directly or donate their membership in books, often from desiderata publicized by the Associates (13).

After establishing themselves through the second half of the 1930s, the Associates enjoyed their heyday during the 1940s and 1950s. Despite such tumultuous world events as World War II, membership grew steadily at first, from eighty-eight members in 1939-1940 (14) to one hundred sixty-two regular members and seventy undergraduates in 1946-1947 (1). Pottle and Vice President and Curator of Rare Books Carl Weber facilitated this growth by writing individual solicitation letters (15). But after Pottle left the presidency of the Associates and Weber retired from active employment at Colby in 1959, membership growth began to decline (15). Student membership dwindled as well, which the Associates attributed to “the increased competition of student activities on the campus” (16).  To avoid this reduction, Pottle suggested that “our local group, both by tactful variation of its programs to include speakers on the history of music and the visual arts and by frequent purchase of important books in those fields, might continue to hold its place as the leading organization at Colby for the discussion of the arts in general” (17). Despite their efforts, the Associates were never able to reverse the trend of declining student membership. Since dues provided the Associates’ most reliable funds for book-buying, reductions in membership had significant repercussions for the organization.

The decline during the 1960s and 1970s appears across the spectrum of the organization’s activities. In 1968, the Associates discontinued the position of student vice president “because it was felt that they no longer served a useful function (18),” reflecting reduced student engagement in the organization. The public events, at first well-attended by both undergraduates and members—for example, ninety-five was the average attendance during the academic year of 1947-1948, became less popular with time (15, 19). In response, the Associates scheduled fewer meetings each semester (20) and appropriated funds to buy refreshments for the events (18, 21-28), perhaps hoping to increase attendance. During their decline, the Associates’ purchasing policy shifted between 1965 and 1973 to focus on the Treasure Room (18, 21-27). This development in part represents a change in leadership, as Richard Cary, who replaced Weber as Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts, favored purchases for the Treasure Room (30), but may also have led students to believe that the Associates had less relevance to student life, contributing to the decline of the organization.

There was a brief attempt to reestablish the Associates from 1976 into the early 1980s, fueled largely by the energy of the new librarian J. Fraser Cocks, who replaced Cary after his retirement. Cocks was energetic and eager to revitalize the organization; yet he struggled to define what the Associates might look like in the future, and any attempts to modernize met with resistance from Cary. This resistance is clear in Cary’s virulent criticism of Cocks’s draft of a new mission statement for the Associates, which called for purchasing audiovisual materials and video and computer equipment as well as traditional acquisitions for the library and Special Collections (29). Cary called these new objectives “as distant for the founding principles of the group as Earth is from Uranus” (30). This kind of tension between tradition and modernization troubled the Associates throughout Cocks’s attempt to reestablish the organization, which faded by the early 1980s. Placed in its historical context, the downturn in the membership and activity of the Associates emerges as part of the counterculture movement of the 1960s and 1970s. The prevailing spirit of dissention and protest left fewer students interested in organized membership. The Library Associates’ ties to older and more established traditions may have seemed particularly distant to students focused on such current issues as the Vietnam War.

Works Cited
1. Warner, Gilmore. Letter to the Colby Library Associates. 1947. Colby Library Associates Collection, Colbiana Collection, Colby College Special Collections.
2. Pottle, Frederick A. Letter to the Colby Library Associates: “Report to the Members of the Colby Library Associates, 1940-1941. 1941. Print. Colby Library Associates Collection, Colbiana Collection, Colby College Special Collections.
3. Humphry, James III. Meeting Minutes, Colby Library Associates, 10 June 1950. Print. Colby Library Associates Collection, Colbiana Collection, Colby College Special Collections.
4. Pottle, Frederick. Address to the Colby Library Associates (in absentia). 11 June 1949. Print. Colby Library Associates Collection, Colbiana Collection, Colby College Special Collections.
5. Pottle, Frederick. “Presidential Address, Colby Library Associates, 1951.” June 1951. Print. Colby Library Associates Collection, Colbiana Collection, Colby College Special Collections.
6. “Maine Author Will Address Library Assoc.” Waterville Morning Sentinel. 5 October, 1950. Print. Colby Library Associates Collection, Colbiana Collection, Colby College Special Collections.
7. “Colby Library Group to Meet.” Waterville Morning Sentinel. 3 March, 1960. Print. Colby Library Associates Collection, Colbiana Collection, Colby College Special Collections.
8. Weber, Carl J. Letter to Faculty Members of the Colby Library Associates. 20 September 1956. Print. Colby Library Associates Collection, Colbiana Collection, Colby College Special Collections.
9. “Will Discuss Paintings With Library Associates.” Waterville Morning Sentinel. 5 December, 1951. Print. Colby Library Associates Collection, Colbiana Collection, Colby College Special Collections.
10. Libbey, F. Elizabeth. Meeting Minutes, Colby Library Associates, 19 June 1948. Print. Colby Library Associates Collection, Colbiana Collection, Colby College Special Collections.
11. Libbey, F. Elizabeth. Meeting Minutes, Colby Library Associates, 11 June 1949. Print. Colby Library Associates Collection, Colbiana Collection, Colby College Special Collections.
12. “Back Matter.” Colby Library Quarterly: Vol. 1: Iss. 1 (January 1943). Print.
13. Pottle, Frederick A. “The Colby Library Associates, 1937-1938.” The Colby Alumnus Apr. 1938: 7-8. Print. Colby Library Associates Collection, Colbiana Collection, Colby College Special Collections.
14. “1939-1940 Members of the Colby Library Associates.” June 3 1940. Colby Library Associates Collection, Colbiana Collection, Colby College Special Collections.
15. Pottle, Frederick. “Remarks by Dr. Pottle.” 6 June 1959. Print. Colby Library Associates Collection, Colbiana Collection, Colby College Special Collections.
16. Humphry, James III. Meeting Minutes, Colby Library Associates, 9 June 1956. Print. Colby Library Associates Collection, Colbiana Collection, Colby College Special Collections.
17. Pottle, Frederick. Letter to the Colby Library Associates. 19 June 1948. Print. Colby Library Associates Collection, Colbiana Collection, Colby College Special Collections.
18. Blake, Kenneth P., Jr. Secretary-Treasurer’s Report for the Academic Year 1967/68. 1968. Print. Colby Library Associates Collection, Colbiana Collection, Colby College Special Collections.
19. Humphry, James III. Letter to the Colby Library Associates. June 1948. Print. Colby Library Associates Collection, Colbiana Collection, Colby College Special Collections.
20. Weber, Carl J. “A Report to the Annual Meeting of the Colby Library Associates by the Chairman of the Program Committee.” 28 June 1947. Print. Colby Library Associates Collection, Colbiana Collection, Colby College Special Collections.
21. Blake, Kenneth P., Jr. Secretary-Treasurer’s Report for the Academic Year 1972/73.1973. Print. Colby Library Associates Collection, Colbiana Collection, Colby College Special Collections.
22. Blake, Kenneth P., Jr. Secretary-Treasurer’s Report for the Academic Year 1971/72. 1972. Print. Colby Library Associates Collection, Colbiana Collection, Colby College Special Collections.
23. Blake, Kenneth P., Jr. Secretary-Treasurer’s Report for the Academic Year 1970/71. 1971. Print. Colby Library Associates Collection, Colbiana Collection, Colby College Special Collections.
24. Blake, Kenneth P., Jr. Secretary-Treasurer’s Report for the Academic Year 1969/70. 1970. Print. Colby Library Associates Collection, Colbiana Collection, Colby College Special Collections.
25. Blake, Kenneth P., Jr. Secretary-Treasurer’s Report for the Academic Year 1968/69. 1969. Print. Colby Library Associates Collection, Colbiana Collection, Colby College Special Collections.
26. Blake, Kenneth P., Jr. Secretary-Treasurer’s Report for the Academic Year 1965/66. 1966. Print. Colby Library Associates Collection, Colbiana Collection, Colby College Special Collections.
27. Blake, Kenneth P., Jr. Secretary-Treasurer’s Report for the Academic Year 1966/67. 1967. Print. Colby Library Associates Collection, Colbiana Collection, Colby College Special Collections.
28. Blake, Kenneth P., Jr. Secretary-Treasurer’s Report for the academic Year 1964-65. 1965. Print. Colby Library Associates Collection, Colbiana Collection, Colby College Special Collections.
29. Colby Library Associates (2 March 1979). Mission Statement, first draft. Print. Colby Library Associates Collection, Colbiana Collection, Colby College Special Collections.
30. Cary, Richard. Letter to J. Fraser Cocks III. 16 March 1979. Colby Library Associates   Collection, Colbiana Collection, Colby College Special Collections.
31. Smith, Karl. “J. Seelye Bixler at the Library Associates Lecture, March 1965.” Colbiana Photographs Collection, Colby College Special Collections.