Cultivating Curiosity in a Professor’s Heavenly Home Library

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Cultivating Curiosity in a Professor’s Heavenly Home Library


A post about an astounding home library may seem like an odd fit for Make:, but bear with me. I posted the image and video seen here on my Facebook page yesterday and they quickly went viral, on both FB and Twitter. People like myself, who are book nuts (I have a library of some 4,000 volumes), are certainly inspired by such an ultimate home library. But the story goes much deeper than that.

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The library in question is owned by retired Johns Hopkins University Humanities professor Richard A. Macksey and is found in his home in Maryland. His entire house is this crammed with books, an estimated 70,000 volumes, along with a collection of manuscripts and fine art. The library is estimated to be worth some $4 million, and Macksey has bequeathed the collection to the Johns Hopkins Sheridan Libraries.

Dale Dougherty, Make:’s founder, is fond of saying that makers are enthusiasts and we certainly see some unbridled enthusiasm here. Dr. Macksey’s livelong passion for the world’s literature and arts is clearly on display. These books, many of them autographed and inscribed, many by friends and colleagues, represent not only the knowledge and imagination they contain, but they illustrate a fully engaged life, a community built around the knowledge they contain.

This library is a living monument to a lifetime of curiosity and a desire to pass that sense of wonder and inquiry on to others. In his 50 years(!) of teaching at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Macksey was known to bring classes of students home so that they could continue whatever line of inquiry they’d begun in class. Students would frequently be there until 11pm at night, sitting around the table in the library. Macksey was one of those rare teachers that students never forget, a teacher who deeply inspires the way that students think and look at the world; he was a teacher who changed lives.

It is that lesson in continuous curiosity and the desire to pass on one’s enthusiasm and knowledge that I think makes this story of interest to makers. It’s hard to watch the above video and not be moved by Richard Macksey’s example of being a lifelong, full-bandwidth educator and a grand enthusiast.

Makers are by nature a curious lot. We feel compelled to look under the hood of the objects and ideas in our lives, to discover how everything works, and to try and improve upon what we can. We’re lifelong learners. And many of us also have the teaching bug where the other side of learning something is the desire to share the process and products of discovery with others.

Drooling over this picture and video yesterday inspired me to think about the nature of learning, teaching, boundless enthusiasm, lifelong curiosity, and how all that relates to being a maker. May it spark similar thoughts in you.

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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. His free weekly-ish maker tips newsletter can be found at

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