Renowned humanities professor Harold Bloom recently finalized plans to donate his personal library to St. Michael’s College, a small Catholic college of 1,900 students in Vermont.
Bloom’s library consists of personal papers, correspondences and over 25,000 volumes collected over his nearly 50-year career, many of which are rare and out of print. The author of numerous books of literary criticism, Bloom received praise from The New York Times Book Review as a “colossus among critics.” In an interview with The New York Times, Bloom said he decided not to donate his collection to Yale because “it would be irrelevant” in light of the University’s massive collection.
Buff Lindau, public relations director at St. Michael’s, said Bloom’s unique and comprehensive collection would contribute greatly to St. Michael’s collection.
“The collection has [Bloom's] correspondence with practically all of the major poets and novelists of the second half of the 20th century,” Lindau said. “The donation certainly enriches our collection.”
Citing widespread misrepresentation of his motives for donation to St. Michael’s in recent newspaper articles, Bloom declined to comment on his decision. But Lindau said Bloom’s choice of a Catholic school centers on his belief that “Catholic colleges pursue a pure love of literature” in a way that more politicized larger institutions sometimes do not.
According to a St. Michael’s press release, Bloom’s choice of St. Michael’s was also a result of his personal friendship with John Reiss, a retired St. Michael’s English professor.
“My gift is in honor of Professor John Reiss, my former student,” Bloom said in the press release. “[It] expresses my admiration for the College’s continued upholding of humanistic study, to which I have devoted my career, as teacher, writer, and editor.”
Lindau said Bloom first contacted St. Michael’s over three years ago to express interest in donating the library. At the time, however, the school did not have the facilities to accommodate a collection of that size. But earlier this month, an anonymous graduate donated $5 million to St. Michael’s for the construction of new library facilities. The graduate’s donation was the largest gift the 99-year-old college has ever received. Bloom finalized his decision after learning about the donation, Lindau said.
Patricia Willis, the curator of American literature at Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, said although many scholars develop extensive personal libraries over their careers, few Yale professors actually donate their collections to the University. Willis said given the University’s already extensive library holdings, there is a high probability the library would already own most of the donated books.
“We would definitely have welcomed Bloom’s books,” Willis said. “But the duplication rate would be so high that it would be hard to justify taking them.”
Lindau said faculty members and administrators at St. Michael’s were surprised and happy to learn of Bloom’s decision.
“People are quite thrilled with such an endorsement of a small Catholic college. It was certainly something that we did not expect,” Lindau said. “We are delighted that we could be called on to protect something of this importance.”