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Feature: The Bioethics Research Library at Georgetown

The Bioethics Research Library at Georgetown University is well-known as a world-renowned resource for bioethics scholarship. With a non-circulating collection of 32,800 books, over 600 audiovisuals, and almost 320,000 articles, reports, court decisions, bills, and other public documents, the BRL is already a destination library for scholars from around the world. (Learn more about visiting researchers.) But the Library is also a hidden gem on the Georgetown campus: a remarkable historical space whose recent renovations have made it an ideal place for hosting everyone from the Archbishop of Canterbury to undergraduates conducting research on top-of-the-line iMacs.

A historic reading room…

Visitors to the Library have likely noticed the bricked sign over its main entrance: “Hirst Reading Room.” The room was originally conceived as a library and reading room similar in design to those at Oxford and Cambridge. The plain ceiling panels visible in the turn-of-the-century photo were later painted by Brother Francis C. Schroen, S.J. (1857-1924), whose work also adorns the Carroll Parlor and interior of Gaston Hall. (Learn more about Brother Schroen’s work.) The panels are painted with trompe-l’œil gilt frames, in which are set a series of paintings representing the history of writing: the Rock of Behistun (Persian); the Book of Ufilas (Gothic); a Hebrew scroll; and the Douay Bible are pictured, among others.

The room also houses a number of historic items, including two portraits attributed to John Wollaston (1710-1775). The subjects are Eleanor Carroll Brent (1737-1817), sister of Archbishop John Carroll; and William Brent (1733/7-1782). The two paintings were bequeathed to Georgetown by Miss Ellen C. Daingerfield, who died in 1912. She was the great-granddaughter of Eleanor Carroll Brent. An illuminated globe, also on display, was donated to Georgetown University by Matthew Barton Fox, SFS ’98, in memory of his mother, Odette Veillon Barton.

…now a 21st century study & event space

In its early days as a student resource, the space was only open to seniors at Georgetown: a special treat reserved for those about to graduate. Today, the Library and its archives are open to the public, as well as to Georgetown students of all ages. After a series of renovations in 2009-2010, the Bioethics Research Library is even more sought after as a study destination, even for those who aren’t there to use the bioethics resources on hand. Librarians host special events most Fridays in the space, featuring cookies and conversations about bioethics. A series of top-of-the-line computers is available for use, and planned expansions of the Library’s audiovisual resources are in the works.

After hours, the space has played host to a dazzling array of events. In May of 2010, the Library hosted the Archbishop of Canterbury for the widely-attended Building Bridges Seminar, a series of public lectures on Christian and Muslim perspectives on changing patterns in religious authority and freedom in the modern world. The President’s Office and State Department utilized the Library as a breakout room for the U.S. India Higher Education Summit; and the space was also used to film sports stars Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf in support of Michelle Obama’s “LET’S MOVE” campaign. Numerous Georgetown organizations have also used the space, from the Center for International Education Development (CIED), who used it to host an award ceremony for a visiting Chinese delegation, to the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor, who used it for a Student Lecture Fund-supported end-of-year presentation of student work on social justice.