INT: I am Jeanne-Nicole Saint-Laurent and I’m here at the Dumbarton Oaks Guest House on July 14th, 2009 with Anne Steptoe and Elizabeth Gettinger to interview Caroline Backlund about her experiences at Dumbarton Oaks. Thank you very much for joining us.
CB: You’re welcome. Thank you for inviting me.
INT: Can you tell us a little bit about your work as a librarian and how you came to work at Dumbarton Oaks?
CB: I was a late person to go into library work because I went overseas for three years during World War II, and before that I tutored children on a 200,000 acre cattle ranch in New Mexico because I wasn't old enough to be accepted overseas through the Red Cross. So, when I came back from the Red Cross, I got married to the New York Times correspondent in Chicago and we lived there for three years, and I took some additional courses at the University of Illinois, Chicago campus, in art history because I'd taken really little – I'd taken mostly English. I went to Smith College. I graduated in 1942 – the Dark Ages. Betty Friedan – did you ever hear of The Feminine Mystique? Did you ever hear about that? Well, she was in my class. So that was sort of the early days – still there were no jobs for women of any importance at that point. Anyway, so I was overseas, then when I came back I got married, and then my husband, after three years – he'd just been appointed to a big job in Washington, died of lung cancer. So then I went to New York to start over again, and I worked at LIFE magazine in the library there, in the archives in the great days – this was before television, mind you, so it was wonderful. So then I left, three editors at LIFE went over to American Heritage and founded the magazine and I'd had no library training but I became the head of the library and the photo archives. And so, I learned from my friend who was at the Metropolitan and at the New York Public Library and so I was there for ten years and then married again and had a child at 42 and I decided that maybe I should get a library degree. So while I was working full time and pregnant I got my library degree at Columbia and I had no sooner gotten it when my husband got a job working in the Cultural Affairs Department of the State Department. So, we came to Washington and rented this house down the street, and our son was then four years old and in nursery school up at Beauvoir, which is up at St. Albans school, and there was a reception for parents or something and I remember very well sitting on the lawn and there was Ihor Ševčenko, who you probably have heard a good deal about, a great, great scholar, but a rather off-beat man. I don't know how many wives he'd had by then, but he later had acquired at least two or three afterward, two anyway. Anyway, we were chatting because his daughter was in Nicholas’s class and he said, “What do you do?” And I said, “Well I don't do anything. I'm a librarian and I've got to start looking for a job.” And he said, “Oh, I'm at Dumbarton Oaks, we need a librarian. Come down for an interview.” This is the way things went in those days. Now, that was not very professional. However, I did go down. I really shouldn't have been hired because to be effective in this library you have to have knowledge of the languages and I have a great curiosity and I learned an enormous amount. I was here for five years and I went to all the lectures, I went to the symposiums. I took a wonderful trip to Europe, eastern Turkey, I'll tell you about later. I really worked hard, too. And I had French, but I really didn't have any of the other six or seven languages that I needed. I was trying hard to think what I did for those five years, which was a little bit of everything.
INT: What was it like working at Dumbarton Oaks at that time?
CB: This was still in the early days after World War II and, of course, Byzantine archaeology studies, travel had all stopped, so there was this marvelous opportunity, suddenly there was this great interest and, of course, many of the scholars that you know about had come from Europe and were – many of them were either at Harvard or Princeton or scattered around. And, of course, Byzantine studies really got their start at Princeton with the Byzantine Institute which was later combined with Dumbarton Oaks. But, so the years that I was here was, not many years afterward all these scholars either, like Ševčenko, went to Harvard or they went to Oxford or somewhere, but many of them died. And it was really an enormous heyday and there was money for grants and they were working on churches in Yugoslavia, in Greece, and certainly in Constantinople, and not yet in the Sinai, that came later. So, it was a very exciting time and I really don't know how, as they say, there was a fair collection, a good collection of books, but obviously it needed a great deal of work and there were people there doing things, like Mrs. Allen, you know she did the BZ Index, which is now – I guess, the kind of thing isn't needed any more, because it's all available online, I understand. I always wondered about the effectiveness of that, but that was her project, and she was an extraordinary woman. There were a lot of foreign-born people there and many of them had, sort of, different approaches, good approaches, but she was very intellectual, very proud, and I think she came from a very fine family that had seen better days in Yugoslavia. And she was quite demanding on the library because she kept requesting hundreds of books from the Library of Congress. Then there was the Index of Christian Art which, you know, I guess is at Princeton now, isn't it? You know what it is? It's an iconographic index of all the images prior to – well, through the Middle Ages, and of course Byzantium – so, if you wanted to look up a given saint or an image of anything, you presumably could find it, and there would be a card and there would be research information on it. Well, for scholars it was absolutely terrific. Now there's something – Iconoclass, you know about that? – which I know from the National Gallery of Art where I was later – it was marvelous, but anyway. That was sort of hidden away and impossible to get to and the card file was so difficult to use that you couldn’t use it yourself, there had to be a staff person to help you find the cards because it was complicated.
INT: This was run by Mrs. Aston?
INT: Mrs. Aston? She was in charge of this?
CB: Yes, Joan Aston. And, of course, she was a lovely person, she had absolutely no background in cataloging or scholarship. She wasn't even a scholar. I mean, she knew Classics, but – so, there were these various auxiliary things around that were demanding of the library but weren't really our responsibility. Now, I was looking at one of these programs that I had, this was from ‘71 and it listed three staff members besides Merlin and myself, and I think maybe they were, I don't know, one of them maybe retrieving books and the other was cataloging. Cataloging was always a problem because they could never get people with the proper language and most scholars who were skilled in that couldn't – didn't want to work as a librarian, they wanted to work as a scholar, but there were very few jobs, if any. So, it was always difficult to get people and I could never understand why they, in the very beginning, they didn't change their classification system to coincide with Harvard’s. And the issue kept coming up but it was before, of course, the age of computers, and it really would have been awkward and there wasn't enough push to do it, but it was always frustrating and scholars complained a lot about it because they'd be used to the classification numbers, say LC, which would have been wherever else they were. So, that was always a problem. As I say, I'm not absolutely sure what I did. I guess I just filled in for all kinds of things, and I did shelving and reference to the extent that I could and helped with processing new material that came in and out and, you know, not very elevating work for a professional librarian, but I really wasn't able to do it. And, of course, I may be wrong, and if you're talking to Merlin, he will explain it, but my impression was that he had studied with Ihor Ševčenko, I have a feeling it was at Columbia, but I could be wrong, but if not it was at Harvard, but I think it was at Columbia, and Ihor persuaded Merlin to come here to be the librarian. And whether he had a library background or not, I don't know. And, if I may say, it didn't seem to me that he did, but I could be wrong. But we didn't work closely together and he was, it was a rather loosely organized institution in those days. The Director, this was before Mr. Tyler came. Now, Mr. Tyler was, he was – Edith Wharton was his godmother, as was Mrs. Bliss I think, and he was married to, I think, a Belgian countess or something. Anyway, she had a chateau in Belgium. But he was a scholar and a gentleman and very strict. Well, the previous director when I was here was Mr. Thacher and he had been, I think he was a godson of Mrs. Bliss or something, he was a wealthy, single, middle-aged man and he lived right around the corner about the third house down on 31st Street on the right – one of those lovely houses. He was gay and there were a lot of gays around and there was a lot of gossip, so I'll just put it that way. So, I don't know, it seemed a strange place to me and, of course, I remember I'd take telephone calls about orders of wine, cases of wine, that were going to be delivered to certain staff members whom I shall not name. But I thought that was sort of unprofessional. Anyway, this – there didn't seem to be very tight control, and I know that Mr. Tyler tried a lot to improve it. And, of course, you know, in that beautiful house – and people have offices in it now – there was much more freedom than there is now, and, of course, however, we had tea down in the drawing room. And it was hard to, sort of, enforce it in a way, because it was a house not a museum, really. And they, in those days, they closed the gardens in the summer, and the pool was open to the staff so that was another – I mean, it was a different kind of place, and I was absolutely enthralled. I knew nothing about Byzantium until I came, and I learned so much. And I went to all the lectures and I went to the symposiums and struggled through things I didn't understand. And I made a lot of close friends with scholars and tried to help them to the extent that I could, but how good the library seemed to the scholars I don't know. They wouldn’t have said anything to me.
INT: In those days, the library was in the main house, right?
CB: This was up – the librarian’s office – when you're going up the head of the stairs, it's right straight ahead. It was Mrs. Bliss's bedroom, and in that corner that juts out – looks out over the garden – that L was the cataloger's and the storage and so forth. Of course, they were very short of storage space, shelf space, and, you know, a lot of the oversized books and the rare books were in the basement and it was difficult to get to them. I think it must have been somewhat of a challenge. On the other hand, it was such an extraordinary opportunity for people to come here that I think they may have forgiven some of that. But it didn't seem terribly professional to me, if I may say without criticizing anybody. Now, as for the acquisitions, of course, Seka Allen used to – she had Serb, Croatian, Russian, German, French – I don't know what else. But she would pick out a lot of the books herself and recommend them and those were usually accepted, and then, of course, the scholars would make recommendations and there were certain lists that the library would go through. How systematic this was, I never really could tell. But when Irene – and then I left, and then Irene – and Merlin left, and why, I don't know anything about that, maybe he just wanted to leave, I have no idea, but it didn't seem to me he was old enough, but he left. And when Irene came in – you will find her – you really must be sure to talk to her because there were quite a few changes. And again, she had this European background and I think they don't learn organization, they don't study organization the way we do here, it's more emphasis on scholarship, which, of course, is fabulous. And she has a Ph.D., and I have nothing but the greatest admiration for the way she acquired books. She read every single – in all languages – of the lists and backs of various Classical journals or archaeological journals or anything that came along, and she pored over them and really studied to be sure. So, there must have been a huge increase in the addition to the library when she was here. I'm sure that it became far, far more useful. Of course, there was also at that time a sort of a post-euphoria with publishing, our publishing, it was far more available suddenly, coming from both abroad and America. But it was not like that when I was here. It was sort of a sleepy place, and how systematic the acquisitions were, I don't know.
INT: Was there any sense of the mission for acquisitions or any sort of rubric?
CB: Well, I never saw any guidelines of any kind whatsoever. Now, the fact that they hired, let's see – Merlin had a Classical language background – I think that's what he studied – Latin and Greek or something, I'm not certain. He certainly wasn't a Byzantinist, and whether he had had a library degree, I really don't know. But, you see, when you have a library in an institution where there are no other libraries – now I know this from the National Gallery of Art which, of course, is a huge place and very, very professional. On the other hand, the people who run the National Gallery – the executives – do not know anything about library needs or administration. Now, if you were, say, at the University of Indiana, there are ten or twelve libraries, or fifteen, or thirty or whatever, so there's a huge group of professional people. So, if you you're hiring people, you have expertise from other departments – it could be a cataloging or acquisitions person or inter-library loan or whatever. But, if when you have a separate institution, I knew that when we had – when I went I was a little ragtag or rusty here because I really didn't think I belonged here. I saw in the paper that the National Gallery was going to open this big study center, which is in the East Building. And they were looking for a director of the study center and a chief librarian. Well, and they were going to greatly expand the library. Well, I rushed down the next day, practically, and it turned out that the man they were interviewing whom they had just hired, on the spot hired me. But of course you can't do that in the government. It took me weeks before, you know. But he had – let's say, I hope he had – the good judgment to hire me because he was a professional. But when he left to go to the Getty, the National Gallery did not go to the Library of Congress or the Portrait Gallery and say, “We'd like one of your top librarians to be on our advisory committee to help us pick a new person,” because it's a big, big job. They just did it themselves. The way they did it was unbelievably awful. I mean, people were not – well I'm not going into the details, but the end result turned out to be awful. So this is what happens even in a big institution or a small one because the people who are hired who are administrators cannot be expected to know the ins and outs of what's needed in libraries, which is a little arcane, maybe. And, you know, I think now with the computer the walls are, obviously, are breaking down in many cases. The people using computers now – scholars and the librarians – are far more on the same wavelength. At the National Gallery, for instance, the curators had their own files and they wouldn't share them with anybody because they said, “Well, we're working on them; they're not perfect,” but, of course, they're never going to be perfect. So, they kept to themselves and they, of course, turned their nose up, naturally, at the library, even people with Ph.D.s and so forth. Well now, you see, we're all on the same database and, because libraries have been able now, if they're indexing their archives and their rare books – things that were not readily accessible are now – well, people are in awe of what they can get. We don't have to elaborate on that, but it's just overwhelming. And so, here, it isn't surprising, there was obviously – Mr. Tyler certainly didn't know anything about libraries and they, to my knowledge, they didn't ask anyone to come from the Fogg to advise. There was always quite a bit of tension because Harvard kept wanting to take over, and they kept resisting here and, of course, there was a lot of duplication of material, but the advantage of a library like this is that a scholar, whether he's in archaeology, or music, or history, or coins, or maps, or whatever – it's all here within one period, and that's extraordinary. But how the personnel office hired people for the library, I don't know. I don't think I really should have been hired but I was. So...
INT: Was there talk of integrating some of the Dumbarton Oaks Library collection with Widener Library?
CB: No. Now, that was another thing. Of course, in fact, when Betty –
CB: Yes, who was wonderful at the Pre-Columbian library, and she came pretty much when I came or a little before – that was absolutely totally separate. It never occurred to anyone that a person could be over all of them, so they ran their library absolutely totally separate. In fact, I never even went into it, if you can believe that in all that time. Now the Garden Library also, of course, that had another history and Mrs. Bliss, of course, had wanted to have a complete history of early garden architecture and design and that was absolutely totally separate. And the scholars there often were away for a year and weren't there very long and we never even knew them or saw them. So, it was absolutely separate and there wasn't the facility to combine them if they had wanted to. There were terrible problems with space and they were, you know – the rare books downstairs – they said they were too close to where there might be a flood and there were all kinds of problems. So, that was never contemplated at that point. You know, it was all quite new, in fact, it was very new and it's interesting now so many of the scholars that were there – here – when I was here, now they're out at prestigious jobs around the country and in Europe and, of course, there were very few places where you could study Byzantine studies in the United States. And so this had a really important role, really important role, and their publications are extraordinary, a bedrock of the scholarship of Byzantium.
INT: Did you work particularly closely with any of the other professors you mentioned?
CB: Well, I was going to say, not terribly, because, first of all, you know, like Father Dvornik who was so wonderful, he was a Slavic expert and he was reading and working in languages that most people didn't know, and he was just in his own world. A lot of them were very much in their own world and Byzantine studies was so specialized and you couldn't really – you had to have majored in Latin and Greek in high school and then moved on. I don't know how you would have done that, but there were very few people who ever did that and Ševčenko's – I don't know which wife she was – but she was here – Nancy, Nancy Ševčenko. And she went to Brearley in New York, which is one of the best private day schools where they all had four years of Latin, and I think that Alice Mary may have gone there too, I'm not certain. But there were very few schools where Classical studies for four years were even available in the United States, so when people got all these degrees, you know, they were in another world because they were. But the languages are absolutely essential. If you didn't know the languages and a book was recommended, say in one of the French journals, you just take their word. Now, Irene wouldn't do that, and I would go to her office and it was piled – she looked at every single book that came in, at all the monographic series, there's so many of them, which Europe does so many of – they're individual series that come out. She pored over them and examined the bibliographies and she knew what was missing and lacking. What she found when she got here, I don't know.
INT: A lot of people have described to us the way that the library began as a very broad collection with a lot of Classical Greek and Roman works that aren’t Byzantine and eventually narrowed, did you find that when you were here?
CB: Well, you see, when you think how it began, it was the Blisses' library, and obviously, although they were highly, incredibly elegant, educated people – I'm sure, for instance – well certainly Arabic studies was outside, nobody studied, very few people studied Arabic. And certainly, I think, Slavic languages were not their forte, and also how much was forthcoming in those during the World Wars. You have to remember, during the World War II years probably nothing was done, and it took a while for it to get going again and there was a lot of animosity between these countries and these people who came. A lot of these scholars, they'd lost their homes and their reputations and their universities and, you know, collaboration was not something that just popped up, and I'm sort of talking off the top of my head, but this is what I think. It took a while, you see, for the collection to get richer. It took more knowledge that people in the library didn't have. It was maybe that there wasn't much being published. Now, I'm working right now as a volunteer in the Textile Museum, and they're in dire straits and let their director go – he'd been the Islamic curator at the Met, but he was an excellent scholar but not a good administrator. Well they're now downsizing, they've fired the librarian – she'd been there too long and was an old-fashioned librarian, of course. I volunteered there right after I left here, or after I left the Gallery and I couldn't stay there because I thought it was so unprofessional but there was no one on the staff that were textile scholars. They knew the library needed to be improved, but they didn't quite know how to go about it, and it's hard to fire a long time librarian or staff person – it isn't something you just do casually. Anyway, one of the things that they found and are finding, because they are now shelf-listing volume by volume, is that the collection had gotten diverse and the librarian was very strong on crafts, so she had a lot of how-to-do books. But, of course, they don't belong there at all, and there's an enormous amount of exchange now. How systematic the exchange program at Dumbarton Oaks is now – it is very probably very well organized if Irene did it – I don't know. But with scholarly libraries, exhibition catalogs and museum collection catalogs and scholarly monographs from museums are their major source because really scholarly material does not go into the average bookstore – most of them. So, it is very, very important that the librarian is up on this and that. Anyway, I'll finish in a minute, but this is now going on at the Textile Museum, and it's interesting because the staff is getting endless duplicates, and they would get things on exchange that had nothing to do with textiles. Well, just because it came from, say, the Hermitage you don't keep it if it has nothing on textiles. This is probably common – it's easier to keep things than to be tough about not keeping. Now, Dumbarton Oaks, you see, had such a regular routine, often it was late. There were terrible complaints about how long it took to get the annual reports out – and the various scholarly publications, that was another sore point. See, there were all these little, kind of, empires and the two ladies who were there, who ran it, nobody could touch them. There was a lot of tension, the scholars used to have a fit about that, I know. But anyway, at least when they came out – you see, I'm sure I never saw the list, I didn't have anything to do with that, and how well, if there was any coordination between the library and the exchange list, I'd be surprised. And, of course, they were expensive books. But actually it's very, very important that the library maintain a list of exchange that they know which institutions would be useful to them, and the Textile Museum is very, very strong in material from the most obscure places in Asia, for instance, or Bhutan, or Malaysia – heavens knows – that obviously are not going to see the light of day otherwise. So, that is something that when you're talking to Merlin, he may know all about this, but I never was even apprised of it. There was no sharing of information – I would say, not much.
INT: So there wasn't much interaction with the Dumbarton Oaks Library and other libraries in the area?
CB: Well, I'm just saying first with the publications department because, of course, to exchange you've got to send and get back and, of course, that involves budget but it isn't always that you can get everything you want, but there should be coordination on that part. As for cooperating with any libraries in the Washington area, it didn't exist, at least during my era. Now, again at the Textile Museum, this librarian never cooperated, never looked outside the window. Now, today of course, with online databases and everything, obviously this is all changing and libraries can be greatly enriched by access to other collections and shared information and so forth. So – but at the National Gallery, of course, they've got a huge staff, they have someone who does nothing but inter-library loans. He's a real character. He's been there now about 35 years, and he goes to the Library of Congress twice a week and people – scholars, you see, come from all over the world, so often they're doing, say, architecture in Japan. Well, of course, this has nothing to do with the National Gallery's collection. So, of course, we borrow it for them. So, if we can't get it at the Library of Congress – and they have incredible resources – we borrow it elsewhere. The European scholars come here – they cannot believe the efficiency of the American library system, because if you go to European libraries you'd be lucky to borrow a book or even get one off a shelf, right? While I was there we would loan books to South Africa, to Australia. Isn't it amazing – never once did we not get a book back. Now, of course, you see, a person can't do it, it has to be institution to institution. But I feel that – and here certainly – there are extraordinary resources in the various religious and university libraries here and the Library of Congress, and it's a huge, it's a big job to do this. But the library should, the scholars should be made aware that they – first of all, you've got to help them find the book, and a lot of scholars don't know much about library procedures – how you can find things in the National Union Catalog or whatever it is. The library has a responsibility to supply, to help the scholars find the books they need, whether they're here or not. And no library can have all the books, nor should they, and maybe they're rare or they're out of print in any event, so this is a very important aspect. I can't say that I was I aware that that was going on. Now, I could be wrong. I know that Seka Allen got loads of books. She knew how to work the system; she knew how to get people to wait on her, let's put it that way. But I mean to what extent it's used here, I really don't know. Now, I know everything has changed so, and has gotten so much more professional and, of course, now they have, they're on the same system with Harvard – is that right? – which is wonderful. Now, how the library works today, I don't know. I've been very active in the Art Library Society of North America – you can call a library from any place in the world and say you're a member and they get you something. So, I did know what's her name – who's the librarian here? She came – what's her name?
INT: Sheila Klos?
CB: Sheila. But I have never laid eyes on her since and neither has anyone else in our library group, she never comes to any of the professional meetings, and I've never seen her at any of the functions. I'm told she never comes to any of the functions. Now, she may systematically feel that isn't her job, and that may well be that it isn't her job. But, on the other hand, this is still a rather small place and getting to know scholars and some of them are shy about asking help. Anyway, I had one little tour after, a couple years ago, a symposium – I had a tour of the new building, and I went along after getting through security, which took me hours, and then had everything in front of me, and in the middle of the guide showing us around someone said “Is there a Mrs. Backlund here?” And I said, “Yes.” And he said, “You took the key to your locker.” I said, “Aren't I supposed to keep the key?” “No, you have to return the key.” It was just funny. In any event, Sheila wasn't around at all – I never even laid eyes on her. Her assistant was there, and I said, innocently, “Where is the reference area?” “Oh,” she said, “this is a post-doctoral center, we don't need a reference area.” Okay. I was very disappointed in the new building – I think it's cold and impersonal, and I can't imagine it not having an escalator. It's terrible to go – to just have that elevator to go down, and there should be photocopying machines on every floor. I don't know, maybe some of these things have changed, but it seemed terribly dark and unfriendly. I was very disappointed. I think the reading room is lovely looking now, but that was the only part I really liked, and I've heard other people share this view. But to what extent the librarian should be out and about is something else again. I have my own views on that, but, of course, at the National Gallery, I was head of reader services. I was there for twenty-five years after I left here – twenty-four years. And our job was to help and that was open to scholars and visiting senior people and an informed public but not high school students or anything. And we did an enormous amount of helping people find things, and some of the worst people in terms of understanding resources were the scholars at the gallery – they get their PhDs in Rembrandt or something and they would keep up on all the Rembrandt literature, but they knew nothing about these wonderful databases that were out there that they could be accessing. It was really kind of shocking. Gradually, you see so many of the scholars are coming along now – all are very sophisticated because they've been there. But in the beginning it was really – so they demand, you know – they know more than some of the scholars about how to find things. Well it's not easy to keep up with it.
INT: Did you get the sense when you were at the National Gallery that there was a lot of interaction between Dumbarton Oaks and the National Gallery, generally?
CB: I think Dumbarton Oaks has a reputation at being exclusive and snooty, and I think that's ridiculous, it shouldn't be. Now, in the first place – the number, even if you were more open about it – how many people are going to be asking for obscure Byzantine material, I mean really? So, on the other hand, there's a very good inter-library loan department there because, of course, they're very active. They have, you see, visiting scholars, about fourteen a year who were there, and they all have to be hired, they all have to be publishing or have some project, so many of them come, you see, with a vast need to do research. If there was something on Byzantium that they needed, I'm sure, they would call here and they would get good service, I'm sure of that. But it doesn't automatically come to mind. Occasionally I think, in fact, I've met a couple people who have come up here and been given privileges in the reading room or something, I don't know. I can't believe that it isn't done. It would be appalling if it weren't, because, after all, as we all know, in these scholarly libraries there are tons of books that don't get looked at year in and year out. You build them up because you want rarer things and they meet special needs, but they should – but is this library online, is it on the Internet?
INT: Yes, it's integrated with the Harvard catalog.
CB: It's part of the Harvard catalog? – well, they probably get requests now, you see, I would hope they do. That's one of the wonderful things, you see; you don't have to be friendly, you just have to have the internet. That's really marvelous, isn't it? I don't know how big a staff they have and I don't even know where they sit, they're back there in some remote place, but I have a friend in the building I live in who's the chief volunteer docent for the gardens and museum, so I hear about things from her, and well, what's going on in sort of a roundabout way. Of course, she doesn't know anything much about the library, which never seems to emerge to anybody. And I go to a lot of the receptions, and I never see a soul from the library, not a soul, so I don't know.
INT: Did you ever meet Mrs. Bliss? Was she here?
CB: Well, she came to tea twice before, when I first came, and she was very frail, and then she never came again. But it was fairly normal, I mean, it was a weird place because there were an awful lot of off-beat people in those days. The Byzantinists were much more off-beat than they are now. No one had even heard of Byzantium and it just had been a relaxed kind of place. So, it was nice to be here on the grounds. They were friendly, but you can't run a place like that anymore, and that's understandable. As for my own personal experience – I mean, it was the most marvelous thing that could have ever happened because I learned so much when I was here. It was just like a graduate or postgraduate course, and I kept reading and studying and listening to these lectures, you know, and it was all new to me and I went on one perfectly marvelous trip that one of the scholars who came from Birmingham in England – where there's quite a large Byzantine center in England – and he was here, he was working. One of his books is on the history of the Pontic Alps which is in Anatolia right along the far, far remote eastern Turkey border which is next to Armenia and Iraq, right out there and, well, just above Iraq and Iran. And I went on this Byzantine trip. I could tell you – I could spend a week telling you how marvelous it was, but it really was extraordinary. There were mostly Byzantinists who were on the trip. It was sponsored in England, so they were English mostly, and that made it even more interesting, and after that I went to the International Byzantine Symposium which they used to have every five years. This was in Bucharest, just a few years before the president was murdered, you know, with his wife and, in fact, I threw out an invitation I had from him to go to a reception. So, this got me interested in that part of the world. So then, when I came back I joined the Textile Museum. I've been on four trips with them. I've been to Turkey twice, Morocco, Tunisia, and then I went on this archaeological expedition. So, that's what it did for me, not what it did for Dumbarton Oaks, and of course I made great friends and my job was very different. Of course, when I would go to the National Gallery, and it's very structured in your position description and what you did. I don't remember ever having a position description, I don't think they had them in those days, I'm sure they didn't, but I don't know.
INT: How many other people worked in the library at the same time as you?
CB: Well, I thought, if you wanted to copy any of these. This, I found was '71-'72, this one was, I don't know, it was just an announcement of the staff, and you might like to Xerox this, because this was '68-'69 and at the back here it lists the staff, and I looked down here and I think there were three: there's Merlin's name and my name, and then I think three others, but they were just staff, so they could have been shelvers or something, I don't know, and then I had this one from '71-'72 and again it lists staff, so I think you might want it. And then I – oh here, this was a symposium, I've been almost every year, I hardly missed one, I must say, it's sometimes a little hard for me, the acoustics in that Music Room are awful and as someone said when they redid it, you know, renovations, they did nothing to improve the acoustics. It's almost – there's nothing they can do about it. I sit in the front row and, you know, often people are speaking with foreign accents, but you see a lot of the scholars. And I know one thing that Irene had said, that in the later years, the top scholars had already come here so then they were getting a different group of scholars, mainly from Eastern Europe, many from Greece, Turkey, other countries, and their backgrounds were post-World War II in countries that had suffered greatly and the whole level of scholarship was different. There was just a different kind of person, you understand what I mean? So these people needed a lot of help in finding material, whether the library is helpful about that or not I don't know, you see in a way it's sort of fortunate that they're stuck away, I mean, usually in the library, even in a big university library, there's an open place where someone sits and people are intimidated, even all these scholars, especially if they've come from another country and their English isn't all that good. That's what disappointed me about this library. Who designed it, I know they changed design about four times because of problems with the historical requirements, but it doesn't impress one as a very friendly place when you walk in, frankly, just the way it's designed, I can't imagine. I guess that gets back to the point of how much communication there is, I have no idea. This particular symposium was in '73. You can copy this if you'd like. These might be nice for the archives of the library if they aren't in there, they may be, and it's just that this is a symposium about Art, Letters, and Society in the Byzantine Provinces under the direction of Professor Ihor Ševčenko. A lot of these interest me, you see, I've been to a lot of these countries now and I would love to have access to reading these. I feel apprehensive of asking to use the library here, it is not friendly at all, and I'm not sure they'd even particularly want me to come. I don't know. I haven't done it because I don't wish to impose myself and cause them extra work and so forth. Well, and you see there's no sort of easy open place for visiting scholars, or say, someone who just comes for a few days, and they don't want to sit in the middle of the periodical room, there ought to be some kind of a center, in which someone could sit, say an assistant librarian, who would be private enough so that she can do her work, but also can be available. And then the visiting scholar for a day or two can ask because it's not easy to find things. I find now that I'm out of the library and I'm looking for things and I think, I can't imagine, I'm somewhat off put because I don't know the latest sources and I think that when I was at the National Gallery, and people asked me all kinds of questions, that I didn't really know the answers to, so I would take them to the different sources. And say we would be looking for a printmaker in say the 1600s and then I'd find that the book included everything but prints. See this is how you learn your craft, you learn it by helping people. The other day I was at Whole Foods grocery store – this was really last week. A woman shouted my name and came across, I swear I'd never laid eyes on her and she said, “I can't believe I've seen you. Don't you remember when I came and I was getting my doctorate and I didn't know any of the materials and you just opened up the resources to me?” So she said, “ I never forgot you!” You know, that makes you feel good. So, I know a lot of librarians are supposed to be shy and backward and maybe a lot of them are and they don't have this kind of attitude, but it made my job every day just thrilling, and I know that people now at the National Gallery at the reference desk, they knock themselves out for people and of course the fact that there's so many sources doesn't mean that they don't need help because people don't use them adequately. I mean, there's so much more to the resources than just finding one entry and they don't know about linkage and all those things. I think if I were back there now I'd go mad. Anyway...
INT: Shall we wrap up, then, I guess?
INT: Thank you.
CB: I don't know whether this is of any interest to you, this is just my Curriculum, it will save you from making any notes and so forth. Anyway…
INT: Well, we just have a few minutes left on our tape, so I wonder if you might, in closing, talk a little bit about whether there was a sense of the Blisses' legacy in the library?
CB: A sense of what?
INT: Mr. and Mrs. Bliss's legacy in the library, because they're known as great collectors of art objects, but they also – the library began as their library.
CB: Yes, but you see, Joan Aston who was a frail, lovely person, she was very English and she came over from England, I think, and she worked in the British Embassy and I think she was one of those lovely ladies that was hired, but she wasn't really a professional. She had Greek, but then she was a friend of Mr. Thacher's – met him at some embassy thing – and so they hired her. She really had no professional background, but she could translate and she was very good at what she did, but she was very fragile. Now, she was, at one point, in charge of all the objects in the museum, that isn't in her title, but, I was reading her obituary the other day. So that things need reupholstered or if the pictures weren't hung straight – of course there was no real painting, they didn't do any renovating of major things but minor – there were all these things that had to be done. She was in charge of that, so the library had no information about any objects in the house at all and where they were I don't know. Now, Mr. – what's his name? – the former director, Tyler, he was in the room that's now just on the way to the Orangery? I don't know what that room is now. What is it?
INT: It's the Study.
CB: Because during the symposium it was empty, we just walked through it, but that was his office, and of course there were books from floor to ceiling there. They were books we never accessed, and I think there were books in the room where we had tea at the end, the – what do you call it – the scholar's lounge or whatever?
INT: The Founders Room?
CB: Is that what it's called?
INT: I'm not sure.
CB: Well at the end, on the first floor, underneath the stairway that goes up, that long room in there, that's where we had tea and I don't know what it's used for now, maybe –
INT: I think it may actually have been divided into offices, as well.
CB: No it is not, it is one, it is not open. I was there during the conference. It was raining so we were eating in there. Well, there are bookcases in there too. And the two lounges opposite the front door which have little French furniture and sofas, have you been in those at all? They had books in them, but those were the Blisses' libraries – they hadn't been out of it terribly long, it had nothing to do with the library, we had nothing whatever to do with anything about archival information. Now, if it was there it's news to me. Now, Seka Allen, I mean, Irene Vaslef would certainly tell you that. When I go home, I have your telephone number but give it to me again. I will give you her telephone number and address and I'm sure she'd, she's a vigorous lady, as you'll see. There were quite a bit of prima donnas around, many of them were, not quite middle aged but not quite young, women from Europe who'd been forced to come to this country and obviously they were people of great education, maybe. They were quite demanding. They didn't come in the way the rest of us had – Americans – worked our way, so it was a special kind of place, and there certainly wasn't much coordination between any of the departments that I am aware of.
INT: Well, thank you for speaking with us today, this was really wonderful.
CB: Does any of this help you at all?
INT: Oh yeah, very helpful.
INT: Absolutely, yes.
CB: You see, I was only here for five years, and then it certainly became much, much better when Irene came, vastly. Now, what Merlin will have to say I can't imagine. I won't comment. But it was just a wonderful place to be.