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In the office of Hillsdale College library director Dan Knoch hangs a por­trait of Russell Kirk. Painted shortly after Kirk’s death in 1994 by former art pro­fessor Sam Knecht, the por­trait was meant to hang amidst Kirk’s archives and private library. Today, however, Kirk’s books sit in an off campus storage facility accu­mu­lating dust instead of con­tributing to new schol­arship.

Hillsdale College should con­struct an archive to house the works of prominent thinkers. The college is regarded as a mainstay of con­ser­vatism, but it is missing the oppor­tunity to be a research center for the intel­lectual history of con­ser­v­ative thought. If Hillsdale took the nec­essary steps to make the libraries and archives of thinkers like Russell Kirk available, it could have a great impact on academia.

Hillsdale pur­chased Kirk’s private library shortly after Kirk’s death in 1994. No one has had access to the books in years because Hillsdale doesn’t have room for them. Hillsdale librarian Brenna Wade remembers being trained as a student worker to retrieve Kirk’s books. But in 2005, the college removed them to make room for the Grewcock Student Center and Kirk’s books lost their home.

Linda Moore, an archivist for the college, said that since then, Kirk’s library has moved several times: From the basement of Delp to the fourth floor of Lane, and most recently, it was moved to a storage facility in Cold­water.  In the Carr Library, for­merly the college’s main library, Kirk’s books were treated like a special col­lection and stu­dents could request the material. But now, the library moves from base­ments to attics into storage facil­ities, and stu­dents have lost all access.

“I’m very glad to have Russell Kirk’s books at Hillsdale College,” Hillsdale College Pres­ident Larry Arnn said in a 2013 Col­legian article. “We’re going to build a place for them and we have a com­mitment to do it.”

Knoch said that although the project still hasn’t started, there are plans to build an extension onto the library that may serve as a place to display and store various special col­lec­tions, including Russell Kirk’s library.

Kirk was a founder of modern con­ser­vatism and one of the most important thinkers of the century. He is regarded as a Burkean tra­di­tion­alist, one who holds per­manent things dear and who relies on pre­scription for authority rather than on abstract truths. In 1953, he wrote his magnum opus, “The Con­ser­v­ative Mind,” a book that gave American con­ser­vatism an identity. Kirk, in fact, was the first to use the word “con­ser­v­ative” to identify the varying streams of anti-pro­gressive thinkers. His book was so momentous that Time mag­azine ded­i­cated their entire book review section to it.

Access to Kirk’s library would give researchers the chance to learn who may have influ­enced his thinking. And who knows what hidden gems are written in the margins of his books.

Soren Geiger, Director of Research for the Official Biog­raphy of Winston Churchill, said Hillsdale has the oppor­tunity to become a repos­itory of con­ser­v­ative thought. And this only becomes more true as Hillsdale acquires material from other thinkers.

Along with Kirk’s library, the college has pur­chased or received several other col­lected works, archives, and papers from important thinkers within the con­ser­v­ative movement, such as William F. Buckley Jr., the founder of National Review; Sir Martin Gilbert, the official Churchill biog­rapher; and Harry Jaffa, prominent con­ser­v­ative and former student of Leo Strauss. The college pos­sesses 1,800 folders con­taining Jaffa’s cor­re­spon­dence as well as 50 boxes of other mis­cel­la­neous material, said Aaron Kilgore, Hillsdale’s Archive Manager. The college also has 243 file boxes of material Gilbert used to write the biog­raphy of Churchill.  

An archive building would be expensive. “There needs to be climate-con­trolled space for the material as well as space for a reading room,” Geiger said.

The college’s current plan would add 15,000 square feet to Mossey Library. But Knoch said the college would also need to hire a full-time archivist, as well as addi­tional staff to act as liaisons between the archives and the reading rooms. Geiger said the college is aware that it ought to improve in this capacity.

“When we say yes to receiving or deciding to pur­chase [an archive or library], we are eth­i­cally obligated to do some­thing other than store it,” Geiger said.

Knoch said the college is still waiting to fund the archive project: “The money has not been forth­coming to add to the library.” In 2013, Vice Pres­ident of Insti­tu­tional Advancement John Cervini told the Col­legian Hillsdale was waiting on a $3.5 million bequest to con­struct the archive center.

It may be worth the wait, but as the college grows in rep­u­tation and con­tinues to acquire the works of prominent thinkers, the need for this building becomes more urgent.

Krystina Skurk is a graduate student at the Van Andel Graduate School of States­manship.