The Goldfarb Library celebrated its 60th anniversary on Nov. 12. Library staff held an event that day in its honor that included speeches, a display of photographs of the library’s history, singing “Happy Birthday” and a birthday cake.

Matthew Sheehy, the head Brandeis Librarian, began the celebration by introducing the speakers — Prof. Steve Whitfield, Professor emeritus of American Civilization Max Richter and Senior Facilities Coordinator Martha Barry. 

Whitfield said that “the story [of Goldfarb Library] really has two sets of heroes: one champion and one villain.” He said that the champions in Goldfarb’s history included Jacob and Bertha Goldfarb, the philanthropists who, in the 1950s, provided the funds to build the library. Whitfield said the library is “a tribute to their generosity,” which he described as “an extraordinary act of self-restraint,” since they said they were willing to have their names removed from the building if the University found a more generous donor.

The members of the Brandeis University National Women’s Committee, now known as the Brandeis National Committee, were also heroes in the story of the library’s founding, Whitfield said. The committee was the largest volunteer group and supporter of those who worked to build the library at the time. He said that “their only interest, their only loyalty, was really to build up the library,” despite the members of the committee having “no particular affiliation to Brandeis” as most of them had not been students or faculty of the University.

Additionally, Barry recognized the work of the National Committee in Goldfarb Library’s history. She said, “I, too, want to thank the National Committee for the whole 60 years that the library’s been in existence. I’ve been able to work with them over the years, and they’re an amazing group.” She said that the National Committee traveled to collect books in its “book mobile” before holding a book sale to raise money for the library. Barry explained that the money raised by the committee was used for “mostly special things we really needed and were not able to fund ourselves.” 

The villain of the story was Bella Chagall, wife of the French painter Marc Chagall, Whitfield said. He explained that her husband had been given a tour of the library in the 1960s and was interested in painting a mural on the wall of what is now Rapaporte Treasure Hall. However, Whitfield said, Bella Chagall “reminded [Marc Chagall] that he had other priorities, like the ceiling of the Paris Opera House.” Whitfield joked that had Marc Chagall painted a mural for Goldfarb, the University could charge admission for entry.

Barry said that having worked at the library for four decades, she has “appreciated meeting all the patrons, the faculty and especially the student staff.” 

Barry said that the Goldfarb Library has changed over the years from being a traditional library with card catalogs to being technologically advanced. She also described past students’ awareness of the Goldfarbs’ relationship to the library. She said that students used to dress up the statues of the Goldfarbs in “seasonal clothing,” and that they were “very conscious of them as their friends and buddies because [the statues] were right there and you could see them everyday when you came in and out of the building.” 

Barry reminisced about the old names for some of the rooms in Goldfarb. For instance, she said that what is now known as the “Green Room” was called the “Edith Michaels Room,” and used to be a smoking room. She also said that students’ favorite places to study were the Judaica Reading Room, Phillips Science Hall (now the Goldfarb Computer Classroom) and the Leonardo da Vinci Room (now the Brandeis University Press Room). Barry then spoke of Dr. Abram Sachar, the University’s founding president, saying that he would often sit in the library and converse with the students “about whatever was the topic of the day.”

In a Nov. 12 interview with the Justice, several library staff members spoke about what the library means to them. Associate University Librarian for Research and Instruction Laura Hibbler said, “I think just working with students like yourselves is really rewarding, and everyone is really passionate about what they’re studying and I always learn new things every day.” She said she sees the library “as a kind of campus center” where students can go for a variety of reasons, including technology, research, databases or a quiet study space. Hibbler added that she “love[s] these stories about the founders of the University and how dedicated they were to this library and creating a fast-budding university so quickly.”

Sarah Hartman, the metadata coordinator, said that working in cataloguing lets her see “a lot of random stuff we have,” such as items the University purchased in the 1950s but probably would not have purchased today. She said there are also interesting books in the stacks such as 1950s Soviet science fiction and French literature.

University Archivist Maggie McNeely said she “deal[s] with a lot of materials that tell the history of Brandeis,” and works to “collect anything that Brandeis produced, or anything by, for and about Brandeis University.” McNeely said one of the most interesting collections is for Middlesex University, the institution that operated until 1947 on the University’s campus before the University’s founding. She explained that Middlesex had been “a very progressive university” and that “it’s very interesting to see that and see the progression to it becoming Brandeis University,” information she said can be seen among the University’s founding documents.

Sheehy said “the services the library provides” mean the most to him. He said that it is important that the library supports the missions of the University and the goals and experiences of the students. Sheehy said he also appreciates the community aspect of the library: “The community that we build I think is really important, and also having the faculty come around us and having a central gathering place where we can all come together and think … vertically across the campus of faculty and students, but also cross-disciplinarily.” 

Sheehy added that having all disciplines recognized in the library is a reason for his enthusiasm surrounding the addition of labs, such as the fabrication and automation labs, designed for technology innovation such as 3D printing and robotics, respectively. He said this is “because I want to make sure everyone finds a resource and finds what they want.” For Sheehy, “The library is such a democratization of information … [and] it cures the digital divide that is a huge part of our country.”