By Susan Markley
At the end of June Falvey Memorial Library will be losing one of our most experienced librarians with the retirement of Bente Loj Polites. Bente, Special Collections librarian and subject liaison team leader for Philosophy, Theology and Humanities, devoted 25 years of service to the University community. Under her co-leadership, Bente also helped implement many of the Digital Library initiatives.
She was born and raised in Denmark, in a small town along the Baltic Sea, and moved to Copenhagen to pursue undergraduate studies in philosophy at the University of Copenhagen. She followed this with a graduate degree at the Royal Danish School of Librarianship.
Bente actually came to Philadelphia for a one-year internship at the Philadelphia Free Library before returning to Denmark to work for several years in public library reference positions there.
Bente then accepted a position as a reference librarian at the European Parliament in Luxemburg where she was responsible for building a collection of Scandinavian materials in politics, social sciences and economics. During this ten-year period, Bente occasionally worked at the European Parliament’s satellite branches in Brussels, Belgium, and Strasburg, France.
With her husband, Bente moved permanently to Philadelphia in the mid-1980s. After a brief stint in reference at the Van Pelt Library, University of Pennsylvania, Bente joined Falvey in 1987 as a reference librarian.
Not long after, Library Director Mary Ann Griffin asked her to manage the Special Collections. These valuable collections were then housed under less than ideal conditions on the fifth floor of Old Falvey. Bente immediately started to conduct an extensive inventory and improve the physical storage of the rare materials.
By the fall of 2000, with a memorial gift from the John H. Kolmer III family, the Rare Book Room on the second floor of the library was renovated, and Bente oversaw the move of Special Collections materials into a beautiful, climate controlled location with new furniture and shelving. While Bente increased the profile of Falvey’s Special Collections, she also took courses at the Rare Book School at Columbia University and later at the University of Virginia to gain additional theoretical insight into the field of rare book librarianship.
In addition, in 1996, she assumed the Philosophy subject librarian position, with the responsibility of working closely with the Philosophy Department. She was a perfect fit because of her academic background and excellent language skills. Bente is conversant in German, French and the Scandinavian languages. She was charged with building a doctoral-level collection with a focus on continental philosophy. Based on her exceptional working relationship with faculty, Bente was awarded the Facultas Award in 2004, in recognition of “services essential to the smooth and efficient functioning of the Villanova community, especially the academic faculty.”
Looking back on her library career, Bente notes many changes, such as the demise of the card catalog and the birth of an online system. She remembers the print indexes being partially replaced, first by librarian-mediated searching, then CD-ROM access, and finally web-based databases searchable by patrons in their dorms, offices and homes. She admits that while reference librarians have increased their responsibilities, there is now less interaction with patrons at a central reference desk.
However, through all these changes, she has always enjoyed working with the students, faculty and staff at Villanova University.
Her retirement plans include “lots of” reading, taking greater advantage of the sights and activities in Philadelphia, and spending more time visiting Denmark and France. She will be deeply missed here in the Library for her outstanding service to the University community, for her expertise in many areas and for her warmth and her dedication to the needs of the students and faculty.
The Special Collections and Digital Library Team, formerly a co-led team, will be continuing under the sole leadership of Michael Foight, upon Bente’s retirement.
Also contributing: Judy Olsen and Michael Foight