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Moving Down the Hall

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The following is a guest post by Dr. Jane McAuliffe, Director of The John W. Kluge Center.

Dr. Jane McAuliffe, Director of The John W. Kluge Center. Photo by Amanda Reynolds.
Dr. Jane McAuliffe, Director of The John W. Kluge Center. Photo by Amanda Reynolds.

Although I have been the Director of The John W. Kluge Center for only two weeks, I came into this position with definite advantages – familiarity and proximity.

For the last year, I have been resident in the Kluge Center as a senior researcher or what, in Kluge parlance, is dubbed a “distinguished visiting scholar.” As I retired from the presidency of Bryn Mawr College, the Board of Trustees generously gifted me with a year’s sabbatical and I could imagine no better place to spend that sabbatical year than the Library of Congress.

As my sabbatical progressed, that supposition was confirmed over and over again. On my first day, I was pleasantly surprised to be ushered into a large and well-equipped office, having anticipated a much smaller space. I was then offered an insider’s introduction to research at the Library of Congress by Thomas Mann, whose “The Oxford Guide to Library Research,” has gone into multiple editions. I have no doubt that this session with Tom Mann, and his subsequent bibliographic sleuthing on my behalf, saved me countless hours of fruitless searching and frustration.

But further surprises awaited. The first of these I have never quite gotten over. To access the vast treasure trove of the world’s largest library, I would simply sit at my computer, pull up the bibliographic record of the book I needed and, with a few keystrokes, submit the request. Within just hours, there would be a light tap at my office door and the requested item would be placed on my desk. What a luxury!

Yet another surprise was the limitless expertise of the subject area specialists. During my sabbatical in the Kluge Center I wrote a book on the Qur’an, one that seeks to convey the full scope of scholarly work on this text from the earliest centuries to the most recent decades. All the required resources are here: the hundreds of exegetical volumes in Arabic and other Islamic languages, the critical studies of the last two centuries as published in journals, monographs and edited collections, and an extraordinary selection of Qur’an manuscripts, both on-site and via high-definition digital reproduction in the World Digital Library. Navigating this abundance, however, requires help and help was readily available. Mary-Jane Deeb, chief of the African and Middle Eastern Division, introduced me to several colleagues who could assist, especially Fawzi Tadros and Muhannad Salhi, and I am very grateful to all three of them.

A final surprise was the collegiality and camaraderie, the sense of scholarly community, that the Kluge Center offers to its resident researchers. Regular gatherings allow us to learn about each other’s projects and to exchange ideas and insights. And there’s a real benefit to working alongside colleagues who are also completing books. Not infrequently, when I was stuck on a sentence or paragraph, I would hear Steven Dick, the Chair in Astrobiology, in the office to my right or John Bew, the Kissinger Chair, in the office to my left banging away at their keyboards and their obvious productivity was enough to get me going again.

So as I begin my new role as director of the Kluge Center, a change that involved simply moving down the hall, I do so with an experienced understanding of the value this Center provides and an eagerness to make its benefits available to many more scholars.

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