The New Alexandrian Library: One Step Closer to Opening its Doors

Cara Schulz —  December 18, 2014 — 14 Comments

The New Alexandrian Library, a research and reference facility focused on magic and the occult, is another step closer to opening its doors. In early December, the library received its certificate of occupancy and is now ready to move its collection of rare papers, artifacts, and artwork onsite. The library is located near Georgetown, Delaware and is named after the Great Library of Alexandria famed throughout the ancient world as a seat of knowledge and a gathering place for intellectuals. The New Alexandrian Library (NAL) hopes to follow in those footsteps.

James Walsh at the doors of the New Alexandrian Library [courtesy photo]

James Welch at the doors of the New Alexandrian Library [courtesy photo]

It’s taken the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, the group spearheading the creation of the library, 14 years to raise the funds and build the first building in the library complex. The lengthy dedication needed to sustain an effort for this long was praised by Peter Dybing in his post on 10 Pagans Who Made a Difference in 2014.

In activism, it is always tempting to move from one popular cause to another as time passes. Few individuals have the dogged determination to take on a project that many see as “undoable”. Ivo [Dominguez Jr., Elder in the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel] has done just that, with his unwavering efforts in manifesting the New Alexandrian Library. This is no small task, building real infrastructure that will last for generations. In this library a legacy has been manifested for Pagans around the world. It is an outstanding accomplishment that will benefit the entire community. Let me also say that there were many people involved in these efforts, but being a list of “Ten Pagans” Ivo gets the nod for this effort. I suspect he will share the recognition around widely. The Pagan community will be filled with gratitude of their own for decades to come.

Michael G. Smith [courtesy photo]

The Wild Hunt talked with Michael G. Smith, an Elder of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel and Treasurer of the ASW’s Board of Trustees about the library, its upcoming opening, what precious and rare items patrons will be able to see, and what future expansion plans look like.

The Wild Hunt: The physical space is ready for shelves and books, how long has it taken, from conception, to get to this point?

Michael G. Smith: While the concept of the library began before then, we made the first announcement to the larger community at our 2000 Between The Worlds Conference. At the time we had a ten-year plan. Unfortunately, with the economic crash in 2008 many organizations experienced a sharp drop-off in donations and the NAL felt the pinch. This created a delay in our start of construction by several years. We held our groundbreaking ceremony in December 2011, poured the foundation in July 2012 and received our Certificate of Occupancy in December 2014. So, from the first announcement to completion of construction took 14 years.

TWH: The building was built in a modular fashion, so this building is just the first of several planned – what will be housed in this building and what will be housed in future sections?

MGS: The initial building will house the Library’s collection, its museum, space for meetings, workshops, and rituals along with space for the restoration and preservation and administrative functions. The plan, as time goes on, is to expand the Library collection into its own building(s) and the museum into its own building. There are ideas for housing for visiting scholars and practitioners, separate spaces for ritual and other magical experimentation, and additional meeting space. With this anchoring building as a foundation, the Library will expand to meet the needs of the community and the collection. It will be interesting to see what the future both brings and requires.

NAL 1

Interior space [courtesy photo]

TWH: What do you consider some of your most precious pieces the library will house?

MGS: That is a very difficult question to answer. We have been given so many rare and one-of-a-kind pieces that it is hard to say what is most precious. How do you compare the elemental paintings created by Dion Fortune for her first Temple to 3000 year old Egyptian votive statuary? How does one compare the Rosicrucian Edition of Manly P. Hall’s “Secret Teachings” to a Monica Sjoo original painting of the Goddess Brigid? How does one compare decades worth of private newsletters and documents of long-gone pagan organizations to each other? All of the items that the Library will house are precious in their own way.

TWH: You are planning on cataloging the library books, pamphlets, etc. Do you have staff that are librarians? And are they paid staff?

MGS: Fortunately there are several members of the ASW who are professional librarians. Their services and guidance will be invaluable in the coming years. At the moment all people working to get the NAL set up are volunteers, though there is a plan to have at paid Chief Librarian sometime in the future to more directly manage the Library’s collection.

TWH: I’ve read on your website that you plan to accept, and restore, rare documents. Document restoration is a very specialized field. And preserving documents creates special challenges. What resources do you have to do this?

MGS: The NAL is within easy access to the University Of Delaware which offers a superior art and document restoration degree. We have been in contact with UD in hopes of creating a working partnership between the NAL and that program. In addition, the NAL currently as several friends who do the kind of restoration work we that is an important part of our function. We must start off slowly, of course, and it will take time to get such a program up and running now that there is a facility which can house the needed resources.

Top floor of the New Alexandrian Library [courtesy photo]

Top floor of the New Alexandrian Library [courtesy photo]

TWH: How much has been raised, and spent, in total for the NAL so far?

MGS: As for raised and spent so far, I am doing a final construction audit at the moment for the Board of Trustees. That said, it has taken approximate $250,000 to build the NAL building to fulfill the environmental and structural requirements needed to house such a collection. This has been done solely with the donations over the past 14 years and the ASW has no loan against the facility. The building itself sits on land donated to the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel which is currently valued at around $300,000. Both the building and the land are free and clear of any lein or debt.

TWH: Although several people have planned to leave the proceeds from their estate to the library, the NAL may not see those funds for several decades. How will the library keep its doors open in the meantime?

MGS: There is still a need for ongoing fundraising and we will continue to do that work. The ASW hosts a variety of smaller events each year and the 2015 Between The Worlds Gala is a fundraising event for the NAL, for example. There are also people who make regular monthly and annual contributions to the Library. The nice thing about all of these donations is that now construction is completed such funds will be shifted over to the functions and maintenance of the Library proper. There are also plans for more permanent income streams, such as the launch of a small press and building relationships with other organization to provide services. In the near term, with volunteer help and very low maintenance costs, we have the income to fulfill our responsibilities and plan for the future.

TWH: How soon until the library has its Grand Opening?

MGS: A good question! We are looking at sometime in the Spring 2015 though an exact date has not been set. If anyone would like to see the Library before then they should contact us and we will see if we can arrange something.

TWH: Is there anything you wish to add?

MGS: In our Tradition the hard work that a person does in preparation for initiation brings that person to a new beginning. The Initiation is the start of the work, not the end. All of the hard work that so many people have done in support of the New Alexandrian Library, to bring this dream to life, has brought us to Initiation of the real work of the Library. This is a beginning, not an end, and there is so much work for the NAL to do for the broader magical communities from which it sprang. We are certain that the NAL will provide much needed resources and that in doing so will encourage more and more people to be a part of its work, both for themselves and for their communities. Let us be about it.

*   *   *

The library has launched a new fundraising campaign for its 2015 Gala to be held at Sacred Space on Mar. 7 at the Hunt Valley Inn in Maryland.

Cara Schulz

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Cara Schulz is a journalist and author living in Minnesota with her husband and cat. She has previously written for PAGAN+politics, PNC-Minnesota, and Patheos. Her work has appeared in several books by Bibliotheca Alexandrina and she's the author of Martinis & Marshmallows: A Field Guide to Luxury Tent Camping and (Almost) Foolproof Mead Making. She loves red wine, camping, and has no tattoos.
  • kyros

    Excellent interview!

  • Yvonne

    I’d figuratively give my right pink to have something like this in Europe.

  • Jessica Koller Mastrogiovanni

    Can’t wait for the opening. Super excited!

  • Ivo Dominguez Jr.

    Please consider making a donation. The more people give, the sooner you’ll be walking through the front door. Also the sooner the New Alexandrian Library will have materials on the internet. Our current indiegogo fundraiser is here: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-gala-for-the-new-alexandrian-library-2015/x/815663

  • It looks beautiful! Perfect for such a library.

  • Wolfsbane

    I think this is really misguided. A physical facility is a utter waste of resources.
    Pagans worldwide would be far better served by a virtual facility accessible to all over the internet.

    • David Salisbury

      Did you read into anything about the project before making that snap judgement? Assembly of the Sacred Wheel owns the land and this building outright, ensuring that it will be financially sound for generations. Besides that, as Ivo says above, there will be online resources hosted by the library. I have seen some of the physical collection of rare items and books that this library will house and I can assure you that it is VITAL that a physical structure is opened to protect these items in the future.

    • How does a virtual facility house the physical objects already donated?

      I don’t think this is a house building. It’s also on land that would be unavailable for purchase, thus making it difficult to sell, should that ever be needed.

    • Northern_Light_27

      Dude, this is criticism just for the sake of criticism.

      I’m often cynical about the way Pagans do large-scale project planning (“build it and they will come! why didn’t they come? oh crap, now we’re in debt, so fundraise! fundraising didn’t work, therefore the community is ungrateful!”), but I can’t fault this project on any of the usual grounds. They’ve made a point of doing this without standing debt, with a really intelligent building design, and with a good sense of the task. Moreover, Dominguez is approachable and willing to answer questions about the project, even pointed questions. I’m pretty impressed, and that’s something I don’t say about Pagan community projects all that often.

    • Michael Smith

      One of the problems people have with the word ‘virtual’ is that they fail to realize that even a virtual environment must have some physical presence in the world. Large online services have huge facilities in which to store the equipment which makes virtual possible. ‘Virtual’ and ‘Physical’ are not mutually exclusive.

      “Why don’t you just host on some other service?” There are several problems with this approach. As long as that service exists that may work but if the hosting service fails or is bought by another service and restructured, organizations may find their data lost (especially if it is extensive) or raised to prohibitive levels or software services highly depended upon no longer available. This is something the NAL will have to use temporarily but the plans are to do our own hosting in our own facility.

      “Why didn’t you rent a facility?” As several pagan organizations have recently discovered renting is always an iffy proposition. Changing ownership, rising rents, and non-renewing leases have caused them to loose their rental space and have them scrambling to find temporary housing for their materials. There is no rent, the ASW owns the property and the building so the potential for losing it all is extremely small.

      Then there is the various copyright issues. Some of the material owned by the NAL are still under copyright and so putting them in a virtual environment is problematic. And then there is the artwork, the statuary, the clothing and ritual objects. Seeing pictures of such things is not the same as being in their physical presence. And is true with all physical objects they must either be housed in the physical world or photographed then destroyed. For myself I know which one I prefer.

      These are just a few of the considerations we made when starting this project. There is a need for physical infrastructure at the same time there is a need for virtual presence. They are not mutually exclusive and indeed are intimately connected.

  • Cathryn Platine

    I can appreciate the determination and dedication to see a project like this through and to do so without a huge burden of debt. Make no mistake, this is something beyond worthwhile. Preserving our history, our physical history is something many don’t think about in a digital age but provides a gift to the future. Bravo!

  • And what nice doors they are! Once employed, I hope to be able to make a small, but monthly, donation.

    Nicely managed, getting built with no liens or debts, too–I’m told Mormon church buildings don’t start until all money needed has been raised.

    • Michael Smith

      Thank you! The doors were a gift from the contractor Myron Marsh to the NAL and we are very appreciative.

  • Macha NightMare

    I would add that the NAL is the library affiliated with Cherry Hill Seminary. http://cherryhillseminary.org/