After working within the Yale University Library system for more than 30 years and serving as the director of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library for 10 of those years, Edwin Schroeder, who goes by E.C., will retire Aug. 31, 2021.
“E.C. took it as one of his goals to figuratively open the doors of the Beinecke wide and invite the campus and community in,” said Susan Gibbons, vice provost for collections and scholarly communication. “I believe that will be an enduring hallmark of E.C.’s tenure.”
E.C. began working as catalog librarian in 1989. Much to his chagrin, he was tasked with cataloging books about the history of cats. But 22 years later, he became the director of the Beinecke.
During E.C.’s time as director, the Beinecke acquired two prominent collections: the Meserve-Kunhardt Collection of American photography and the Takamiya Collection of medieval manuscripts. E.C. also established the Windham Campbell Prizes, expanded the Beinecke’s online presence, organized a large-scale renovation of the Bunshaft building at 121 Wall St. and diversified the library’s events, outreach and programs. E.C. has been credited with establishing the Beinecke’s presence globally.
Lisa Fagin Davis GRD ’93, executive director of the Medieval Academy of America, said that E.C. “cemented [the Beinecke’s] role as an extremely important international center for research, teaching and public engagement.”
Beinecke staff members described E.C. as an approachable director. Raymond Clemens, the early books and manuscripts curator, said that E.C. was informal, not a person “you had to bow to.” This attitude is reflected in E.C.’s goals of opening the Beinecke to Yale, New Haven and the world.
E.C. said that when the Beinecke opened in 1963, it was intended for senior scholars, who were “mostly white guys.” Since then, the Beinecke has worked to be more inclusive.
In order to make the Beinecke’s collections more accessible, E.C. pushed curators to reach out to professors at Yale and worked to diversify the library’s programs. One of the library’s goals for the past 10 years has been to encourage every Yalie to visit the library at least once during their time at college, E.C. said. This can be for a concert, a reception or to view a collection.
When the Beinecke turned 50 in 2013, E.C. seized on the anniversary as an opportunity to “really open [the Beinecke’s] door.” Over the course of a weekend, live concerts, a sound installation and a talk by Italian scholar Umberto Eco brought visitors to the library.
In 2015, the library worked with the Yale School of Drama to showcase a multimedia art show. In 2017, the Beinecke had its first exhibition on the Harlem Renaissance, which displayed its Langston Hughes collection. E.C. said this was an opportunity for the Beinecke to connect with the New Haven community in ways it had not done previously.
E.C.’s tenure saw changes in both the Beinecke’s programming and the nature of its collection. The library’s collection of visual materials, including movie posters and scripts, expanded under E.C.’s leadership. He said that these objects help “document the changing story of the human experience.”
For the past 20 years, the Beinecke has moved toward digitizing its collections. Last summer, under E.C., 100,000 new images were added to the digital library. There are now more than a million images in the library’s archive, which will continue to expand with three full-time photographers. E.C. hopes this archive will open to the public in January.
Clemens commended E.C.’s acquisition of new collections during his tenure — such as the Takamiya Collection and the Meserve-Kunhardt — and said this approach enabled the library to acquire some of its most important pieces. He said that the Takamiya Collection “transformed the Beinecke from being strong to being, without a doubt, one of the best.”
The Beinecke holds the most robust collection of medieval manuscripts in the United States, E.C. said, largely due to the library’s Takamiya Collection. The collection includes over 100 medieval manuscripts that E.C. said would be impossible to acquire today. For example, when the library purchased the collection, which includes four unique Chaucer manuscripts, there were no other Chaucer manuscripts on the private market. The Meserve-Kunhardt collection includes documents from the Civil War and the post-war period, with over 1,000 photographs of Abraham Lincoln.
E.C. said he never would have guessed that his final year would be so unusual. “I’m able to at least come into the building,” he said. “But it’s surreal.”
“An inspiration to all who enter” is inscribed on a plaque at the Beinecke’s entrance. Yet E.C. said it is difficult to live up to the full potential of this promise when the library can only open its doors with limitations. He hopes the Beinecke can show new exhibitions to the public in the spring.
An unexpected consequence of the pandemic for E.C. is that he can spend time in the reading rooms, engaging with manuscripts for the first time in years.
E.C. hopes to continue this practice once he retires, and he specifically plans to indulge his passion for the history of railroads.
Barbara Rockenbach, the Stephen F. Gates ’68 University Librarian, together with Vice Provost Gibbons and Provost Scott Strobel, will choose E.C.’s successor. E.C. sees this as the perfect opportunity to appoint someone who breaks the mold of past library directors, who he said have been white and overwhelmingly male.
A new director, E.C. said, especially one without a Yale affiliation, will question the library’s status quo and encourage it to grow in positive ways.
E.C. added he had “a list a mile long” of possible ideas for future projects at the Beinecke. “But that’s for the new director to figure out, not me.”
Annie Radillo | [email protected]