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Shelf Life

State of the Arts


Published May 19, 2004 at 4:00 p.m.

How do you move a million books? Very carefully. And that's just what a Connecticut-based company will be doing beginning next Monday at Middlebury College. The library-moving specialists William B. Meyer will transfer the contents of the 104-year-old Starr Library to the brand-new, $40-million Middlebury College Library.

But here's the thing about libraries: At any given time, lots of books are checked out. That poses a problem when you want to move, because it's much easier if the books are transferred all at once, and in order. That's why Dean of Library and Information Services Barbara Doyle-Wilch came up with a way to "get a buzz going," and the books coming back: T-shirts that read, "Got books?" Library staff and some faculty began wearing them, and gradually word got out that anyone who returned their books by May 7 would get a T-shirt, too. The gambit was surprisingly successful -- "A month ago we had 24,000 books out; now we're down to 10,000," Doyle-Wilch says. "We know we'll never get them all back. Faculty use them to prepare for summer courses."

Meanwhile, also on May 7, the College kicked off the big move with a much smaller, symbolic one: A human chain passed 13 specially selected books from Old Chapel to the new library to "baptize" the shelves. The seemingly unlucky number simply represented the number of donor constituencies -- faculty, board of trustees, students and so on. Among the "very interesting" books chosen by these groups, Doyle-Wilch says, were Dante's Divine Comedy with illustrations by a contemporary Italian artist; a rare book of American belles lettres from 1842; a first-edition copy of George Orwell's Animal Farm; and a "whole set of Harry Potter."

After the move, Starr will house classes in the humanities, including film production. Asked what she'll miss about the old building, Doyle-Wilch says, "I came here three years ago. Some people have worked here for over 25 years and I'm sure they will be very sad... But I think it's a wreck and I won't miss it at all."

outside the box

The Ferrisburgh Artisans Guild has had a rocky history, from its problem-plagued construction to a protracted decline. When former owner Debbie Allen closed FAG in December 2002, it seemed the end of her and her family's admirable ambitions for this lonely stretch of Route 7: a passel of lovely old buildings transformed into a gallery, an artisans' studio/classroom and the Starry Night Cafe.

But the obits were premature; last August furniture maker Allen Simon revived the gallery, albeit with a smaller roster of artists, and renamed it Gallery Seven North. And this Memorial Day weekend, he's launching something new... and old: an outdoor antiques-and-crafts market. Actually, the antiques will be sheltered within the covered bridge on the property; the craft vendors will come with their own rain provisions.

Weather or not, the upscale flea market will take place every Saturday and Sunday at least through September. "It feels like something of a rebirth here," says Simon, a British ex-pat who also owns the Shelburne antiques store Patina. The studio is bustling, too, with a glassblower, two metal workers and a potter. With the new open-air venue, Simon hopes to woo back some of the craftspeople formerly represented inside FAG. The fee for vendors is $60 a day "for the covered antique people," $40 for the outdoor booths. "No fee for the public to come and look," Simon points out.

Meanwhile, Starry Night's new chef-owner David Hugo is doing his part to stop traffic: Starting May 30, he'll be serving Sunday brunch.

The passion of the prez

Even in a small town, some kids see the big picture. Take Raney Aronson, a 1988 graduate of the Chelsea High School in tiny Chelsea, Vermont. She went on to major in South Asian Studies at the University of Wisconsin, and spent a year living in India. Then she reported for the China Post in Taiwan, earned a Master's in Journalism at Columbia University, and took field-producer positions at MSNBC and ABC News. Recently Aronson's been in the limelight -- including an interview on National Public Radio's "Fresh Air" -- for her film The Jesus Factor. The one-hour documentary was on PBS' "Frontline" in April and will be aired again this Thursday, May 20. In it, Aronson examines George W. Bush's born-again spirituality, its impact on his presidency and policies, and the growing influence of some 70 million evangelical Christians in the U.S. Bring it on, Raney.

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