Saturday, 6 October 2018

Clinic of the Soul: a brief review of the Carmelite Library and its place in the history of the Carmelite Hall, Middle Park

A paper given by Philip Harvey as part of the Grand Centenary Celebrations of the Carmelite Hall 1918-2018, on Sunday afternoon, the seventh of October 2018

In his latest book called ‘Packing the Library’, the Argentinian writer Alberto Manguel reflects on some of the reasons why we read and why we build libraries for ourselves. He says:

“The only proven method by which a reader is born is one that, to my knowledge, has not yet been discovered. In my experience, what occasionally does work (not always) is the example of a passionate reader. Sometimes the experience of a friend, a parent, a teacher, a librarian obviously moved by reading a certain page can inspire, if not immediate imitation, at least curiosity. And that, I think, is a good beginning. The discovery of the art of reading is intimate, obscure, secret, almost impossible to explain, akin to falling in love, if you will forgive the maudlin comparison. It is acquired by oneself alone, like a sort of epiphany, or perhaps by contagion, confronted by other readers. I don’t know of many more ways. The happiness procured by reading, like any happiness, cannot be enforced. When Diodorus Siculus visited Egypt in the first century B.C.E., he saw engraved on the entrance to the ruins of an ancient library an inscription: ‘Clinic of the Soul’. Perhaps that can be a library’s ultimate aspiration.” (Manguel 139)   

We will never know if the Carmelites who started their Library proper in the 1920s thought of it as a clinic for the soul, but we can be certain that the health of the soul, yours and mine, was a priority for them. It still is.

The historian and previous Carmelite librarian, Paul Chandler, has written that “The Library was first established in Albert Park in 1928, although the core holding included books collected since the beginning of the Australian Carmelite foundation in 1881.” (Chandler 1) Many of the rare books have come from Ireland, as well as Rome, the oldest book in the collection being 1538, entitled ‘Disputationes adversus Lutheranos’, an attack on the Lutherans by a Carmelite of Ferrara named Giovanni Maria Verrato.

 “[The Library] was originally intended to cater to the needs of the Order’s novices and seminarians and their teachers. It was relocated to Kew in 1928, to Donvale in 1937, and returned to Middle Park in 2002 … Originally a rather modest collection, the Library was considerably expanded in the 1960s and ‘70s under the librarianship of Fr Brian Pitman, and developed some strengths in the areas of philosophy, scripture, systematic theology, and especially in spirituality and Mariology.” (Chandler 1)

We use expressions like ‘turning a page’ and ‘starting a new chapter’ to describe historical change, and both of these expressions are apposite when talking about the arrival of the Province Library in the Carmelite Hall at the turn of this century. By the time this happened though the Library’s character had already changed appreciably.

 “From 1990 a change in policy was suggested by the changing educational strategy of the Order, a desire to avoid duplication of resources, and a recognition that specialisation would allow the Library to become a more valuable intellectual, cultural, spiritual and ecclesiastical resource in Melbourne. It was decided to concentrate in those areas most closely associated with the life and spirit of the Order, and the Library is now specialised in three areas: Carmelitana [which is a fancy word] for all aspects of the life, history and spiritual tradition of the Order; Christian spirituality and mysticism; and Mariology, the theological study of the Virgin Mary.” (Chandler 1) It is due to this far-sightedness on the part of the Carmelites that we now have next door an incomparable library collection in these areas of theology, certainly unique and special in its kind of any such library, not just in Melbourne but in Australia.

“The owners of the Library now regard it principally as a specialised research collection in its specialist areas,” and in particular to support the research and teaching of the University of Divinity and the Carmelite Centre.

The installation of the Library was a matter of necessity. It had grown over seventy or so years to instruct and inspire the men who had studied, worked, prayed and been professed. The Library served their needs. But by installing the Library on the street front in Middle Park, the Carmelites fulfilled a second wish. In addition to being a research library, it became a public library, readily available to anyone needing spiritual nourishment, especially those many people for whom spirituality is a favourite or the main form of reading in their lives.  

The sale of the house at Donvale must have been a difficult, painful experience for those who had lived there. Formative and on-going learning has been an intrinsic part of life in that place. Curiously, the monastery and its site were bought by the Coptic Church, which meant that a new theological library was established in the same building as the library that was transported to Middle Park. The Saint Athanasius Coptic Orthodox Library was installed. 

I’ve had to be careful in explaining this change to Library users. Sometimes when I tell borrowers that the big monastery on the hill had been sold to the Copts, their response is, “Oh, you mean the Police Academy.” “No,” I respond quickly, “Not the cops, the Copts!” Normally one of the last things we think about when shifting house is the library. The task would have been a challenge for those who had felt so safely at home out in the East.

My own memories of the library at Donvale, where I visited for meetings in the 1990s, remain quite fresh. The collection itself was outstanding and already specialised beyond the obvious specialisations of Carmelite literature. Melbourne has a wealth of theological libraries but I had not seen, nor expected, anything quite like this. The focus was on spirituality and mysticism, even then, with an unrivalled depth of material. The reasons were simple. The Carmelites had slowed the acquisition of theology, as such, using their budget instead to build a special library that properly represented the literature of spirituality through time in a way that those other libraries did not or could not do, either because it was not priority in their selection policies or not the focus of their schools’ curricula. So here was something very special that no one else was doing, such that twenty years later (today) the collection is inimitable, outstanding, and essential.

The odd thing about Donvale though was that the Library gave new meaning to words like cramped. Close reading was unavoidable in the aisles of the Library, which could only allow passage for one person. Shelves towered to the ceiling like the north face of the Eiger, with too many of the books difficult to retrieve. It was not inviting to a visitor and not conducive to extended study.   

I say all of this to illustrate the contrast between the Library space at Donvale with that in Middle Park. The Library moved from rooms that were tight and narrow to a large room that is airy and spacious; from a place hidden from view of the public to one where anyone can visit and feel at home; from shelving that defied access to a layout where everything is readily available. It is easy to see why the shift, when it came, thoroughly improved the look and contact with the collection itself. All of which is thanks to the architectural design style of its architect, Augustus Andrew Fritsch (1864-1933).

Fritsch’s building style was solid and big. His structures were built to last. The Hall’s walls are four bricks thick and presumably constructed from Fritsch Holzer bricks, the family firm near Riversdale Road in East Hawthorn.
His death notice in The Argus in June 1933 lists some of his achievements: “Mr. Fritsch designed many ecclesiastical and other public buildings in Victoria and in other States. He was architect for Newman College, in conjunction with Mr W. B. Griffin, and he designed parish churches at Hawthorn, Malvern, Elwood, Middle Park, and Camberwell. St Patrick’s College, at Sale; Assumption College, at Kilmore; Magnet House, in Bourke street; and the Melbourne Spiritualist Temple, in Victoria street. His recent works included additions to the Redemptorist Monastery, Ballarat, and the Broadmeadows Home, which is under construction.” (Argus)

We learn from this notice that he was assisting Walter Burley Griffin on Newman College at the same time that he built the Carmelite Hall, both enterprises encouraged by the young Archbishop Mannix as part of a huge Catholic building program across Melbourne.

The Carmelite Hall’s foundation stone was laid in 1918 by Mannix and the Hall was considered one of the finest in Australia. Its most distinctive features were the highly decorated proscenium arch over the stage, complete with Irish motifs, the high windows that let in immense natural light winter and summer, and a raked, or sloped, stage. The stage of the Carmelite Hall is one the few remaining examples of its kind in Melbourne, and it was its rarity that assisted with its preservation when plans were developed to transform the Hall into a spirituality centre.

There are many here today who recall the different arguments for preserving the stage. I was not here at the time to witness that four act drama and can only say that, speaking strictly as a librarian, the stage creates a useful meeting space within the building but it is difficult to shelve books on a sloped floor.

The Library made a virtue of necessity when the collection arrived here at the beginning of the noughties. The Hall had become rundown, with poor quality carpet, a rabbit warren backstage, and an air of disrepair. The entire room was painted in outdated off-white and orangey brown. As Paul Chandler remarked at the time, dove grey and butterscotch were not his favourite colour combination. All of this was to change utterly with a plan to renovate the entire precinct, church, Hall, and everything in between.

The visionary renovations of 2005-2007 resulted in the precinct as we now see it: a church with a nave altar for greater communal worship; a driveway of paved stone and native gardens; and a Carmelite Hall redesigned, repainted, and renewed outside and in. Painting the Hall interior white, with beige on the mouldings and effects, gave the whole space a huge lift, making it a pleasure to enter into and work in. It became a welcoming place of reading and study, a sanctuary of refuge and reflection, but also somewhere for reading groups to meet, lectures to be conducted, symposiums held, invitations of hospitality offered and deeper needs met. The arrival of the Carmelite Centre, with its dedicated program of spirituality, a couple of years later, was the perfect completion of the Order’s original objectives.

The renovation though did have one serious implication for the Library: we had to shift the entire collection to a location in North Fitzroy, then back again. While this vital renovation work was in progress the Library still had to be kept open. However, moving forty thousand books twice in a year is the stuff of nightmares and I will spare you the details. When it was reinstated here in Richardson Street for official re-opening in 2007, it were as though the Library had found a natural home. There was room for expansion and it met the long-term dream of the Carmelites, which was to have their Library on the street front, available to anyone and everyone in need of the special literature provided.

The Library shares the building with the Agama Yoga School upstairs and many on many a morning in the Library visitors can enjoy hearing the chanting of the yoga attendees coming from the gallery. The Yoga School moved in when the billiard tables moved out, which is now thirty years ago.

Today the Library has more like fifty thousand than forty thousand books and continues to grow. The collection is now a by-word for those in Melbourne and beyond who depend on its irreplaceable treasures. But reminders of the Hall’s former glories have a habit of showing up. Older visitors will sometimes wander in and look around, not at the books but at their memories of attending dances here; some will declare effusively they were married in the church next door. Occasionally we still receive mail for the Middle Park Aikido Club, even though it hasn’t practised in the Hall for twenty years, and people even walk in hoping to take up karate because Google Maps has sent them here. The recent Open House Melbourne event had the Hall on its program, so on that day we learnt even more secrets about its past from visitors. The Library has, at present, a display of some of the things we know about and we fully expect to discover more.


The Argus. Obituary: Mr. A. A. Fritsch. Saturday 10th June, 1933, page 20.

Paul Chandler. Carmelite Library, Middle Park: collection development policy (2005)

Alberto Manguel. Packing my Library : an Elegy and Ten Digressions, by Alberto Manguel (Yale University Press, 2018) 

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Reveries of libraries, the twenty-fourth : THE SPACE BETWEEN

A shelfie of St Bernard of Clairvaux’s sermons
taken by Amanda Witt

Book trolleys are necessarily sturdy, given the solid give and take they handle every day. Wheel it over here. Charles Dickens somewhere, perhaps ‘Bleak House’, describes shelves of leatherbound books, the titles of which are receding into the binding. Whether this is from overuse or no use, or perhaps the weather, is something we sometimes ask as we reshelve them after circulation. Though not for long, unless the spine is falling off, the call number’s lost its grip, all in need of repair. Pamphlets are the imps of the shelver, hiding between ranks of the normal, disappearing completely into their allotted spot, forgotten were it not for a shelf read. They slip out of sight between tall buildings. Unlike the classics and required reading. Great armfuls of monographs in number order from fingers to elbow go back into place at the edge of ledges. Call numbers tease with their decimal points, sometimes going round the bend. Old authors push out new ones in a reversal of the concept of succession. Progress is levelled and elevated by terraces, when shelving.  The new looks remarkably like the old when published at the same time; the old is fresh as the morning and the new awaits its time in the yellowing sun. Shelving strategies vary. One strategy is to arrange them all on the trolley, for a leisurely stroll in shelf order once all the books are sorted. Thus church fathers and their heretics are managed together in one clean sweep. Another strategy is whatever a handspan can stand. Gaps that were created by a borrower may still be there, with luck, a ready answer to the conundrums of the call number.  “There are those who seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge; that is Curiosity,” writes Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. “There are those who seek knowledge to be known by others; that is Vanity. There are those who seek knowledge in order to serve; that is Love.” Reading is not on the to-do list of shelvers. Our reading, mischievously at times, but also on a needs-to-know basis, is an education in what borrowers are reading. The person who cannot get enough Thomas Merton, the person captive to the Inquisition, the mystery reader working her way through Buddhist scriptures, the devotee of existentialism, all these and dozens more inform the shelver’s sense of the life of the collection, and influence buying. Syncopated strolling is the shelver’s habit, two steps forward, three steps back. Continued down aisle two, round the corner and up the top, slowed by mis-shelved sequences needing resequencing, the appearance of cram or total bookwall. There is no use trying to push books into place, it will only make it worse. Continued from aisle 11, where the collapse of the Roman Empire is almost a weekly occurrence, propped back up by a legion of returns. Encyclopedias stick together like a committee that knows its own mind, any volume soon back in line where it belongs. Some shelvers cannot reach the top (height) or the lower (injury or age) shelf, haphazardly returning monographs that are their reach, even theirs alone. One falls from the armful and a bookmark slips out. The art requires less haste. A rhythm, personal and calm, turns the process into a meditation and in particular a meditation on the collection and why we read at all, on what is of interest, why this and not that, of what drives our needs. Picking up the fallen book the shelver notices all the people who must have made this book: author and publisher, editor and proofreader, compositor and typesetter, designer and binder, packer and seller, back in the middle of a war in 1941. There cannot be very many copies left in the world. It even looks like 1941, smells like it, thin wartime paper stock. It slides quietly into its accustomed peace. No time for reading. Buoyed by the letting go of books, shelvers are as well buoyed by the successive decades that keep their employment going. Well may we say, so much to read, so little time, as though we had all the time in the world to read through our libraries. The library assumes we know what we’re looking at. Emphasis on assumes. “No one who can read,” says Charles Dickens in ‘Our Mutual Friend’, “ever looks at a book, even unopened on a shelf, like one who cannot.” Then too, the shelver glances occasionally at a book that has probably not gone far for some time, a gem if only there were the right reader, an unmoved mover. But we must continue. It is a dream of stops and starts, passing thoughts and surprise encounters with olden words. The space between circulation and breathing, between rare books and rare moments, between the phone and the loan. Squared corners of the imagined world are taken and tipped back into their fine resting place. Never final resting place, for who knows where a book may end that is constantly on the move. Even the unmoved mover could become seriously overdue, given half a chance. All of this dizzying regimentation, this decimalised regulation, this dance of reading rotation, devised to hold in the impossible surge of the world as we know it, our thousand theses that would contribute explanations of what is yet beyond the aims we ever set ourselves anyway. The fortunate shelver glances at the arrival point, the shelf with the sermons of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, only to notice the space left behind when the returned volume was selected, some weeks previously. So it goes, the necessary job of keeping the like-minded together, putting the treasure where it may be found, while also enabling the gracious moment of serendipity.  

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

The Carmelite “Collective Memory” EMANUELE BOAGA

The late Emanuele Boaga, O.Carm. (1934-2013) was the Archivist of the Carmelite Order. At the meeting of the Carmelite Librarians’ Association (CLA) held in Rome in January 2011, he gave this paper on Carmelite libraries and archives, in his native Italian. This English translation was produced by Mark Attard , O.Carm.

When speaking about our archives and libraries, which contain a rich “collective memory” of our spiritual life, our progress and other aspects of our Carmelite life, a preliminary precision is needed.

The Nature of the Library and of the Archives
-         A library comes into existence to respond to precise cultural needs (the study of specific sciences, distribution, reading, etc.). It contains manuscripts, incunabula or printed material which are classified according to author or to subject matter. Therefore it has a very easy-to-use structure which gives immediate answers to the user who is looking for information on a specific subject. Furthermore, the catalogue card (by author or by subject matter) offers other information, like its call number, publishers, year of publication, and other typographical data.
-         Archives come into existence as a consequence of the activity of an entity or an institution, and, in a general sense, represent its organizational and administrative structure. Therefore its primary function is for the entity or the institution itself, since it registers all the phases of its activity. So the archives conserve and catalogue all the documentation produced and received by the entity in its activity. This is done according to a policy which reflects the structure of the entity itself in its historical evolution.
-         A simple collection of documents can never be transformed into an archive. On the other hand, documents proper to an archive are bound together by a logical and necessary connection, called an archival connection, which illustrates the relationship that the documents have had amongst themselves from the beginning. In fact, a document separated from its original context loses a great part of its value and is reduced to mere “information”, absolutely insignificant from the archival point of view and only partially useful for a researcher. Only a wider perspective offered by the context which has determined the production of a document and placing it in a proper archival file would allow it to assume its proper significance.
-         Sometimes, for a variety of practical reasons, archives contain other documents regarding the entity, but not produced by its activity. However this type of documentation has lost the information of its original archival connection.

There is a profound and substantial distinction between archives and libraries:
-         Entities and institutions cannot do without their own archives and libraries.
-         But we should not confuse archives and libraries. Even though they have similar tasks in conserving memories in their various aspects, nevertheless they have their own proper and distinct finalities and specific characteristics which are completely different.
-         Specifically, libraries and archives:
a)     Are different by origin: while archives are necessarily produced by the specific activity of an entity, libraries do not have this derivation and connection.
b)    Are different by reason of their primary finality: Archives have the principal finality of being of functional service to the administration of their entity; while libraries and museums have an eminently cultural scope.
c)     Are different by reason of their development: The growth of archives is limited proportionately by the greater or lesser activity of the entity. The expansion of libraries and museums on the other hand is unlimited and depends on a variety of causes (for example, space availability, finances, the intentions of those responsible, and researcher requests).
d)    Are different by the way they are arranged: Archives are arranged according to the structure, nature and activity of the entity. Libraries on the other hand are arranged according to various systems and organizational exigencies (for example, various catalogue systems, and arranging books by size to gain space in stacks).
-         Therefore it is not possible to conceptually approximate archives and libraries. Each has its own proper and specific methodology and this has to be borne in mind applying informatics systems to libraries and archives.
-         Nevertheless, libraries and archives complement each other well. In fact they enjoy a common denominator in as much as they both present the value of memory and witness of events and of the cultural production of a territory, of an institution, of an entity, or of a person.

Libraries and Archives in the History and Life of the Order (cf. the articles “Archivio” and “Biblioteca” in ‘Dizionario Carmelitano’ (Roma, 2008)):
-         The first known library is that of the convent of Wadi-ein-Siah on Mount Carmel. During the Middle Ages, to conventual libraries were added the personal libraries of the doctors of theology. This phenomenon increased with the arrival of printing. Already from 1680 there was the norm of sending copies of books published by Carmelites to the library of Traspontina. Today the most functional libraries are those associated with study r formation institutions (schools, colleges, student houses, novitiates, etc.) and frequently they contain the books of the deceased brethren of that community.
-         In the Middle Ages (already in 1281 and 1294) on a local level, and, from the 14th century on a provincial level, archival documentation, together with money and with “iocalia” (precious objects) were conserved in a “three key safe”. On the other hand, documentation on a General Council level was in the safe-keeping of the Procurator General who lived in the “conventus romanae curiae” (that is, in the various cities where the Pope established himself with his court). The “Liber Ordinis” (which contained the Acts of the General Chapters) was kept in between General Chapters in the place where the future one would be held. Furthermore, according to a custom diffused between the 14th and 15th centuries, the Priors General kept with them special registers. The custom of having specific place for conventual and provincial archives goes back to the 15th century. The General Archive of the Order was born in 1593, as a registration of the activity of the Generalate community and into it were placed all preceding documentary material (for example, pontifical bulls).

Archives and Libraries as “Cultural Goods”
-         Nowadays libraries and archives have to be inserted into the context of cultural goods. This is an important fact. Libraries and archives are cultural goods not only because they conserve books and documents, but also because their fruition allows further production and knowledge, and, in a certain sense, they constitute the genetic patrimony of  community, in so far as they are “the deposits of the historical memory” of that same community.
-         Memory means identity. This does not mean to venerate the past, but rather to seek in the documents and books of the past those values that can enlighten our future choices. It’s important to understand the connection to our roots which are precisely “the memory of what we were and therefore the basis and precondition of what we should be and would like to be. Every day, minute by minute, we move from our roots to establish our new relationship with the world so that we become the artisans who are aware of that every day history in which we live. The knowledge of history is not only a knowledge of our past, but also the knowledge of our present as well as a projected awareness of our future.” These words of a famous living historian (F. Renda). We should also remember an expression of Pope Paul VI: “In ecclesiastical archives are conserved the traces of the transitus Domini in human history.”
-         All of this is applicable to our archives and libraries.

Some Further Considerations

What does this general scenario suggest to us? I would like to offer the following considerations, applied especially to archives but without excluding libraries.
1)    There has been an increased interest in archives and libraries in recent years, but a great deal remains to be done and there is a backlog to catch up with. There are several initiatives here and there to evaluate archival and library material. But there is also another demonstration of the great importance of the value that archives have achieved in ecclesiastical circles, and this is the circular letter sent out by the Pontifical Commission of the Cultural Goods of the Church, entitled “The Pastoral Function of Archives”. This manifests the great attention given to archives in ecclesiastical circles. Archives have a pastoral function! Who would have ever imagined until a few decades ago that those ancient pieces of paper have a pastoral value? Why is this? Because the transmission of our documentary patrimony is a moment of the tradition of the Church; it is a memory of evangelization; it is the instrument of a pastoral occasion in which those papers constitute a patrimony for the historical culture of the Church. By recuperating the historical memory, we truly have a basis, in faithfulness to the past, for what it means to be Church in the present.
2)    Archives and libraries represent a much wider importance than simple utility; they are centres of cultural production and of ample possibilities of evaluation.
3)    In the light of the above, it is obvious that archives and libraries are primary cultural goods, which constitute not a “private good” but a “patrimony” which is received and which must be transmitted also with our own contribution. Their material protection, their administration and their appreciation require a true commitment and adequate resources (suitable locales, personnel, financial subsidies, regulations, etc.)
4)    The best knowledge of the past is the reason and possibility of understanding the present and also because the motive of a hidden projection of the future. We are responsible for the patrimony which we have received and which we are obliged to transmit to others in an integral way and further enriched by our own present experience.

Emanuele Boaga, O.Carm.
December 2010