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Ozarks’ Robson Library a gateway to wonder, learning, exploration

July 21, 2011
By cnp
Posted in Academics

Clarksville, Ark. --- Nobody knows how many books were in the Library at Alexandria when Julius Caesar accidentally burned it down in 48 B.C. That will remain one of history's tantalizing mysteries. However, the L.S. and Hazel C. Robson Library at the U of O has 97,000+ volumes and counting, according to Library Director Stuart Stelzer, and no Roman legions in sight.

However, the books you see are only the tip of the iceberg. "Most of the library is invisible," Stelzer says. Robson Library subscribes to over 90 online databases which include full text access to over 40,000 books and 25,000 periodical titles.

"The library is a Grand Central Station of ideas," says Stelzer. "It isn’t the only place to catch a train of thought, but all the trains come together here."

One of the best things that librarians can share with you in the library is their habit of curiosity. "Really good librarians never lose the habit of wonder. They like to play with the mystery of ideas. Many years ago a U of O teacher said to me, ‘Knowledge is tentative and plural.’ We should approach all of life with a certain questioning - never run out of questions. We have to live those questions. We’ll never answer all of them.’ And libraries are inherently subversive in that they create questions by trying to offer different points of view. The more angles you take to approach a question, the more you get a sense of the possibilities of an answer. It’s something like the parable of the blind men and the elephant. None of us have a monopoly on the truth."

Stelzer stresses the value of learning beyond simple job training. "What is education really about? Going to college is like traveling to a great city in a distant country . Some people can go on that journey and then return home to their old habits of thinking, but some of us come back changed. Often we listen to and absorb only the first messages that we meet, but what we really need to do is to train ourselves to filter wisely as much as possible of the information that we encounter. It takes deep thought to build your own filters. All education is self-education. Your teachers help, and so can your librarians, but nobody can tell you what your true major, your true career - your true calling - is. Each individual has a unique tuning fork inside, and only that individual can tell when that fork begins to vibrate in response to the presence of some idea, person, place, or circumstance. All education must be accepted as inherently, inevitably self-education."

He sees Robson Library as responsible for aiding the individual in that search for knowledge. "Ultimately we’re trying to select, collect, classify, arrange, and preserve resources and to maintain a setting where people can use those resources as tools to find out who they really are."

Is there a concern in the reported modern decline in literacy? "People sometimes talk about a ‘post-literate’ society," Stelzer says, "but I think that the written word is still one of the most marvelous mechanisms that we’ve created for transferring certain types of human knowledge and experience. The human brain can only take in knowledge and digest it at a limited pace. We don’t yet know a better way to download some of that content other than by reading. The nice thing is, the people speaking to us in books never get impatient with our progress. Whatever speed we need to go is just fine. Maybe reading is second-hand experience, but it’s second-hand experience from a lot of really great minds."

Stelzer urges everyone to make full use of the library, online and in printed paper, and to approach the librarians to learn more about what the library has to offer. "All of us live in palaces of the mind," he says, "but most of us, alas, never visit all of the rooms."."

For further information on Robson Library, go to or call (479) 979-1381.