Story of the Yogaville Library
By Swami Murugananda
Revised and edited – second edition.
Sometimes things happen in the most unusual way.
A friend recently suggested that I write up the story of how the Yogaville library came to be. Here it is.
The Beginning Part I – First Preamble
Around 1984 Swami Ramananda asked me to create a library for what was then our Vidyalyam (Yogaville School). It was then full up with students and they had decided to get official Virginia accreditation. Ramananda, who was then president of the ashram, explained that one of the requirements for this was that school have a functioning library. I told him that I knew nothing about how to do that. He came back saying you’re probably the only one who could figure it out. At that time, they had many shelves of books, in the basement, in no particular order.
At one time, in my distant past, I worked in a university library. Scratching my brain and trying to remember what the classification system was. I discovered that I really did not know that much. I eventually obtained one important book; the abridged Dewey Decimal system and used that as a guide. After reading the introductory chapters I still had no idea what most of it was about. I also needed some sort of computer program to enter all the data. At that time card- catalogs were still in limited use. The program was needed to print those out as well as labels for the books. I went to the Buckingham high school to inquire what application they used. The woman in charge told me of some program made by the publisher, Follett, which was then the major publisher of middle and high school texts. I asked Swami Sarvananda what kind of computer I could get at that time. What they had was the most primitive Apple Computer in existence.
This was very tedious work especially considering that I didn’t know much. Furthermore, the program I was using from Follett publications was so primitive that it did not allow storage on the hard-drive; instead, I had to store all the data on those ancient 5.25” floppies. I called the company to complain saying what’s the point of putting it out floppy when you can’t look anything up. They had no proper answer. I went along with it anyway. Printing out thousands of cards. On that point, I had no drawers to store the cards. So on a whim I called the main library in Richmond knowing that the Virginia library system was all interconnected. I inquired whether there was any library switching over to computerized cataloguing where I could get some cabinets at a good price. They told me of the library in Herndon, Virginia that was doing just that. I called them to inquire with the status of their card cabinets was and they informed me that they had them free of charge available right away if I picked them up. Serendipity sometimes comes at strange times and places. It just so happened that that there was a couple living in Herndon who was very closely connected with us. He and his wife have been associated with the organization for many years. It also just happen to be that he had a pickup truck to transport all the cabinets. It also just happen to be that they were coming down the next weekend and he was happy to go pick up the cabinets, no problem. There were three complete sets. Just out of curiosity, I looked up the price in the library supplies catalog that I had and they were over $8000. A pretty good deal I would say. After about one year, with some assistance, I completed the project.
The Beginning Part II – Second Preamble
When this was finally completed, it was suggested that I do something similar for the ashram. I thought, “Well, that would be okay but this time I would want a proper computer and proper program.” One of our members happened to have a computer store in Charlottesville and he obtained the PC, which at that time was the basic DOS 3.3 system made by Ultron, a long gone company. DOS 3.3 was one of the earliest OS’s available. It was quite intimidating, as I knew nothing about command line entries etc. I purchased THE manual that was the official Microsoft user manual. This was written for programmers and people trained in that very arcane language. It was fortunate that we had a few friends who could interpret this for me. Once I understood the basics that was easy-going. I also obtained a more user-friendly manual from Microsoft for free. I then went to the Charlottesville high school find out what program they were using for the library and purchased that. At that time, it was very crude and basic. However, it could put all the data on the hard drive, which was a very useful feature. At this point, the program was still stuck with printing out cards. It took a tremendously the long time to print out so many cards and have someone help me sort them out. Later on I got the next version of the program it’s did away with cards (it did provide the option of doing that if one wanted) I could now print out an index on paper that could be, subject, title, or author. I did away with the whole card catalog.
In any case the card catalog is very cumbersome, inefficient and time-consuming method. I cannot imagine what it was like in the pre-computer days. Imagine having to type it up thousands and thousands of cards on a clunky typewriter. Having to determine all the subjects and write it according to the very rich and specified format and then having to sort them out alphabetically. That was truly a daunting task.
As we had no building for the library, I commandeered what we called the “multipurpose room” (MPR). I requested our able-bodied carpenter, Swami Daasananda, to build several bookshelves according to my design, which was practical except that they were quite heavy and were not modular; that is to say the shelves were fixed in place and could not be reconfigured. We had thousands and thousands of books stored up in one of the attics in Sivananda Hall. I sorted the books out as best I could. Selecting what I thought would be suitable. I worked in the attic sitting on the floor with the computer on a very low table and entering data, one book at a time with my very crude method of typing. I really did not know how to type. It was, as you might surmise, quite a daunting job. Or to put it another way, totally insane
After a long time I completed the project.
I put all the cards labels, books shelved in place etc. everything done. I thought it was time to invite Sri Gurudev to come for the first viewing. One fine day He came. Very slowly, He looked at the books and picked one out, blew the dust off, and said, “This was one of my books.” Wouldn’t you know, the one dusty book that He pulled out was one that belonged to Him. Just my luck.. Gurudev then asked me,
“Is this all the books you have?”
“No sir, there are thousands and thousands more in the attic. There’s just no more room here.”
“Well, you need a building.”
“Where would you like it to be?”
I was a bit stunned, never expecting him to say such a thing directly to me. This was a private conversation no one else was in the room at that moment. I pointed to the spot opposite Guru Bhavan. I said, “That would make a nice quadrangle. It would be very harmonious and symmetrical.”
I knew Gurudev loved symmetry and balance.
“Sure, we’ll do that.”
The Serious Bits
I thought to myself, yes many things have been said about something being built. That that does not mean it will actually happen. I, therefore, dismissed it from my mind being content to stay with what I had done. However, three months later Mitra Metro came by saying they were having the groundbreaking for the library and would I do the puja. He also asked me if I would make a design for what I wanted. Of course, I agreed to do the puja but I had absolutely no experience in designing anything, not even a bulletin board. However, I went along drawing out a little bit of the design. What I wanted was two floors top for adults lower for children I thought that would be nice. Eventually they completed the building I got the top floor. The lower level was divided into two sections. Three quarters used for Gurudev’s dining room for Him, special guests, and a smaller section for kitchen storage. This eventually became what we call the “Boutique”.
Now began the serious work of properly classifying and cataloguing all those books. I finally got some sense and decided that the attic was not a good place for me to work. I, therefore, enlisted the aid of some strong guys to help box and hauled down all those books from the attic to an empty room in the monastery. I also obtained a few sets of empty shelves that they had in storage which although flimsy would serve as a temporary device.
While the building was being constructed, I contacted the local manufacturer of industrial grade shelving. I had already determined the size and number of shelves. I called them with the order and they suggested various parts that would be very useful such as end pieces, braces etc. I had never done anything like this before consequently I ordered far too many parts. I also for the first time in my life, made a contract with a large company that sold library products, mostly to elementary and middle schools. They were easy to work with polite people from Minnesota, of course they were polite. I made a deal wherein if ordering a certain amount per month I would get an additional 20% discount. They sold every imaginable product for libraries. This was very exciting for me, doing all this.
I also ordered every possible book I could find on library classification, cataloging, as well as the American Library Association (ALA) rulebook. Within that exceptionally large tome I read only two or three chapters. Which was quite enough. All of these rules, systems and methods of classification completely alien to me. I may just have well been reading Etruscan. However, by and by I managed to figure it out.
[FYI the term classification refers to the assigning the correct Dewey number to a book. While the term cataloguing refers to the terms used to identify the book such as subjects, author(s), title, or any other terms that may be indexed searched for and then some. Just thought you might like to know that.]
The new program was fantastic it did not take long to learn it but it did take long to set up the printer. In that spare room of the monastery would be ranks of books and day after day, classifying and cataloguing one book at a time with my very amateur typing method.
Eventually the building was completed and we got going on installing the shelves. I wanted everything to be super secure. That is to say, nothing should fall down on anyone, no catastrophes. So along with tying two sets of 7 foot shelves together along with back-braces & end-braces I bolted 2”X1”lengths of wood to the wall and bolted the ranks of shelves on top and bottom to those lengths of wood. Now, nothing will move those shelves. Except maybe an elephant. I determined the distance between the ranks of shelves with the book cart plus a person standing between it and the shelves. I just figured this made sense. Years later while looking in the library supplies catalog I saw some diagrams of shelves rank plans, and wouldn’t you know it the measurements I made was exactly the same as suggested in the catalog.
Years before someone had donated thousands of vinyl albums of Opera and Classical music I obtained those along with the custom-made shelves for them and created a music section with three old couches along with a Persian rug. We also set up a children’s section. For that I set the shelves down to 4 foot height cutting the uprights to that level. There was a separate little rug for that. Gurudev had also given me a beautiful record player for LP’s, along with an amp and two high-grade speakers.
With everything neatly in place. we were ready for the grand opening. “Ta daaa”. I arranged for a date when Gurudev would be able to attend. We did a puja. I got around to saying a number of mostly very silly things. What got into my head to say such things? I do not know. In any case, it was all done nice and neat.
The Long Hard Climb
I proceeded to set up an office space with a beautiful wooden desk, made of real wood none of that fabricated nonsense. I did acquire a fabricated computer desk that served well. Now came the very long period of classifying and cataloguing all the rest of the books. The job that took so many years. I also became a bit of a computer geek. Aside from classifying the 25,000 items that comprised the library I created a special system for the Hindu Scriptures section. The official Dewey system did not know of so many Scriptures and therefore did not include them. My system was infinitely expandable and was able to include any Scripture that may come along.
In the original construction of the library there was no cooling system. As the climate here turns to very high humidity and heat in the summer, I knew that this would be quite harmful for the books. What to do? I thought it would do no harm to post a little notice saying that we would like to raise $2000 to purchase two AC units. Shortly thereafter a lady came to me while I was at the reception desk saying that she would be happy to donate the entire amount with one small condition. She would like this to be in the memory of her mother who was a librarian and asked if it be okay for me to get a small plaque stating that it was in the memory of Mrs. Edna White, Librarian. Of course, I could do that. I ordered two top-level window AC units from Lowe’s. We put them in after cutting out the openings in the wall, and putting a wooden frame around them. Our electrician installed the 220 line and wall switches. These were indeed the very top-level, highest power AC units. Even though they were very noisy, they did cool the entire area. An interesting point was and when Gurudev saw the units, He asked if he could have one. Of course, I said yes and gave him one and purchased another. I often would say we got our AC system in one “swell foop”.
There were many times that I would go down late at night to check on the process of a computer program that I initiated just to be sure the computer wasn’t burning out. I did print out the indices of subjects, author & title. They took up three very large specialized binders for dot – matrix printouts. You don’t see this sort of thing around anymore.
[Sidebar note.] It is worth noting that along the way we had many old-style hardware. For example, when I acquired the Windows 95 computer (Micron) I wanted good backup system. As that time top-level was a tape backup that could be built into the computer. So I had a “Colorado tape backup” that was very slow and cumbersome. When the Windows 98 (Dell) came along we got an external drive. First there was The Jazz drive which was very expensive and had a limited capacity. Following that we got the more efficient much less expensive Orb drive; it also featured a much larger storage capacity. My terrific ultra-advanced windows XP (HP) came. It featured two CD reader/writers so I could copy one CD to another. I was able to use the CD writer to do my backups now. There were specialized programs for this purpose. We later obtained an external hard drive that was 200 Gig. Considered to be, at the time, a massive storage space. It was a very large unit. There was no such thing as a terabyte hard drive then. External portable hard drives coming in at 8 TB are now available. I now use automated software that creates a clone to an external solid-state hard drive. We used a lot of old technology back then. It is constantly evolving state. [Thus endeth the tech geek sidebar.] .
One day one of our schoolteachers (Satya and Sadasiva) came by to inform me that the school was not going to get accreditation after all. And they proceeded to bring about 90% of the books that I had previously classified etc. It was then necessary to retype every book in to the system as this was a new program and I needed to keep track of everything that I had in the library. Aside from that, many of the books were incorrectly classified so they needed to be done again anyway. More work. On and on it went.
Most of the thousands of books originally came from the old Connecticut ashram. Included among those volumes was a beautiful and large collection of art books, most of which were quite rare. There was a complete collection of Shakespeare as well as beautiful volumes of fiction, reference books, and of course many books on yoga, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity etc.
This was a very long tedious, most challenging task. Your hundreds of boxes, literally HUNDREDS of boxes. I went through them one at a time. Determining the classification number sometimes out to 5 or 6 digits. Making thousands and thousands of labels fitting everything nicely on the shelves. I invented my own system for classifying of 2000 LPs. That worked quite well.
In library jargon we had some 25,000 “holdings”. This refers to all forms of materials held by a library that could be in the form not only of books but; manuscripts, periodicals (magazines), digital and analog recordings on tape, VHS, CD, and DVD. We had all of these. We have a complete collection of the Integral Yoga magazine. And a complete collection of the Divine Life Society publications. The latter came under many names over the decades. We are also in possession of the first edition (1893) of Swami Vivekananda’s Raja Yoga. This is kept with our antiquarian collection. There is also a very large reference and Special Reference sections the latter containing many of the books donated by Sri Gurudev. In that section there also signed editions of books such as the biography of His Holiness the Dalai Lama who made an inscription in Tibetan on the title page. There is also a signed copy of the biography of Charles Shultz. So many wonderful books I cannot name. We also have very large collection of National Geographic magazines the first one dating from 1914 but it is not a complete set, there are many gaps.
We have books in a great many languages. This includes:
Greek, Japanese, Chinese, Tibetan, Pali, Farsi, Hindi, modern Tamil, Bengali, Arabic Italian, French, Spanish., German. Sanskrit, Hebrew, Latin, Aramaic, Russian, Literary Tamil (rather different from standard spoken time will it is like an old form reserved for ancient Scriptures and writings more difficult to understand. Sri Gurudev was fluent in this regardless of the difficulty.),
A few of the memorable events. Acquiring some of our most cherished treasures.
One day we received some 14 extremely large boxes of books. I did not recognize the name of the person who shipped them. These boxes contained books mostly on Buddhism and Hinduism. Among which were the 42-volume set of the Pali Canon in the Pali language. This is the essential Scripture of Buddhism as laid down in India. We also received the 22-volume set of Tibetan Scripture that were a facsimile of the original Palm leaf writings. This was a beautiful boxed set in perfect condition. There were also volumes on Buddhism in French and German as well as a set of the magazine published by the Buddhist Society in England just before and during the war (WW II) a good percentage of these magazines were edited by Alan Watts.. Included in this collection was a complete set of the works of Sir Arthur Avalon a.k.a. John Woodruff – they included the Serpent Power and all his other books on Shakti. They were all first edition books. My assumption was that this came from a retired professor of Buddhism perhaps one who passed away. Several times, I wrote to the person whose name was on the boxes asking her to call me so that I could personally thank her for this collection. She never did call. I asked everyone here who had been around for a long time if they recognized the name. No one did. It remained a mystery.
Over the years, Gurudev would send occasional small boxes of books from his own collection. However, in the winter of 2002 he called me up asking if I had room in the library for some more books. I said, “Yes, of course Gurudev. I have room.” (What was I going to say, “No Gurudev I have no more room”? I was not that much of a fool.)
“Well, come over them. Bring some boxes.”
I went with a friend in a van with many empty boxes.
Gurudev was sitting on the floor in his reception area. In front of Him was a very long coffee table. On top of which were hundreds of books. At one point while handing me books he said, “This was from Gurudev.” Meaning from Sri Swami Sivananda. Of course, they were all in perfect condition. We then came to books about which he asked me if I knew the author. I would say, “Yes Gurudev I know that person.” Or “I know that book.” Then came a moment; He pointed to the cover of a small paperback book sitting there. “C K Ramaswamy?”
After a long pause I said, “So sorry, Gurudev I do not know that person.”
He then laughed well, “That’s me.” Oh my God, I forgot that was his original name. It did not console me that my friend also forgot and did not recognize His birth name. He had signed his name in very tiny neat letters on the cover as well as on the title page. It was a book from 1934 by Mahatma Gandhi on health and diet. In excellent condition except cover was torn off. I had it restored by a professional book restorer who services I used in Charlottesville. In that book yet also put in the margins very teeny, teeny notes in Tamil usually two or three words. I have thus far not found anyone to translate it.
Among the He gave us treasures was a three volume , leather bound, folio size, complete works of Shakespeare circa 1860 with a number of steel engravings. It was a magnificent set.
I received thousands of books and had to purchase a full double set of extra shelves to accommodate so many books. Included was his entire Tamil collection, the complete works of Ramalingam, many copies of the principal Tamil Scriptures, hundreds of pamphlets in Tamil including some of Gurudev’s father’ s treasured poetry which were done in a Yantra form. Also a great many of the old pamphlets by Sri Swami Sivananda from the 30’s and 40’s, most of which were published before Gurudev met Sivananda. There were the books on Ayurveda, Sanskrit. Grammar, numerous translations of the Ramayana, sets of many Hindu Scriptures and Puranas. Finally half a dozen books about classic American automobiles. Some were signed editions. Some signed by Gurudev, some by the authors. We have all of these in our library. They were several such visits over a period of 3 to 5 weeks. At the end of each visit, we always had some tea and biscuits. That was so nice. It was deeply personal.
It is worth noting that these transferring of His books took place some eight months before his Mahasamadi.
Many years later, thanks to the diligent work of our own Swami Chidananda we obtained an entire collection that was sitting Gurudev’s ashram in Sri Lanka. Many of them were moldy and riddled with the effects of bookworms (the insect variety not the human). I called the man who did the book restoration for us (this included that three volume leather bound Shakespeare). He gave me some simple remedies for these infestations. They were quite easy to do. Some of them were signed by Swami Sivananda with inscriptions to Gurudev. Many signed by Gurudev.
One day while visiting our beloved Swami to Tyagananda at his home, he told me that I may take any of the books that he had in his library. He really meant it. So I checked out what there was and took a number of the old books most of which were from 19th century and one from 18th These are the antiquarian book collection now in the library. Number of these had covers broken so I took them all to our book restorer in Charlottesville and he lovingly rebound them and labeled the spines. All beautifully done. It is interesting to note the English usage that was prevalent in 19th and the 18th centuries. Included in this collection is the oldest dated book in the library a British publication from 1795 “Little Women’s Magazine”. An anthology of articles from that magazine. (Not a magazine for “little” women. It was the name of the magazine not the women)
There were also many anonymous, unsolicited donations just to name a few.
- Meyer Baba society in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina sent us the complete 12 volume hardbound set of stories about him written by his disciples. This arrived volume by volume one per year
- The Society of Friends, publishers of Quaker books, sent this a complete set of their books.
- Some unknown person from a group of Kabbalistic studies sent us a one volume Zohar in Aramaic. So far nobody has been able to read it.
- One day we had the gracious visit by Grandmother Doris an elder of the Matapanai Native Americans. She was known to be a much respected and venerated storyteller of her people. I got into a conversation with her about preserving the stories and language of the people. I related to her that I also was a storyteller. It was a most beautiful encounter. At the end of our conversation I got up to go when she stopped me and handed me a large bag containing a five volume hardcover set of the Encyclopedia of the Native American Peoples. This is in our reference section.
- I received in the mail a signed copy of a book on movies by Roger Ebert. He signed it to me. Probably because I wrote him a couple of handwritten notes telling him of the errors we made in his very fat book on films with capsule reviews by him.
- One day I got a phone call from a gentleman whom I did not know. He lived in Florida. He was in charge of The Sivananda Yoga Center (DLS). They were closing up their center. He wondered if I would like to have a number of Sivananda Divine Life Society publications. I really didn’t know what to say. So I said, “Sure, send them I will put them in the library.” I received about eight or nine boxes containing many publications and little booklets by His Holiness Sri Swami Sivananda.
- Over the years, we received subscriptions for many magazines. I have some of the more unusual ones there. When we had to do the reconfiguration (see below) I gave away many of these. That was quite difficult.
- Early on, someone donated the very beautiful and interesting set of 29 VHS tapes, World Music and Dance along with booklets about the music and dance. It is a fascinating study. Am now attempting to sell this on eBay.
- Among the other interesting sets that we have our: The Great Books of the Western World (56 volumes), The Centenary Celebration of Sri Aurobindo (29 volume), the Siva Purana. The Sikh Scripture, Sri Guru Granth Sahib (two versions), the Mahabaratha (two versions), and many versions of the Ramayana given by Sri Gurudev.
These are some of our most cherished treasures including a vast collection of National Geographic magazines the first one dating from 1914. There are just too many wonderful books. There is just not the space to list them all.
It is worth noting that during the long years of dealing with the library holdings and system I did a few other things. Most notable among which is the creation and completion of the SASTRI Project. This is the master database of text of every talk Gurudev ever gave in English that I could find. This project took 23 years to complete. It is the master reference from which comes many of the booklets, articles, and talks people give at satsang. As well as answers to questions, people have had from all the world about what Gurudev said on many subjects. For persons living here it is a free service. For people living outside the ashram a small charge of $35. Which is quite small considering that it took over 23 years of very hard work to complete and many thousands and thousands of dollars invested in equipment.
I wrote a separate article on this, which you can see, posted on Facebook some years ago. If I make a book from this essay, I will include that one as well.
On the side I also registered the domain name “Yogaville.org”.. I developed the first website. It was plain and simple just using pure HTML code. Pure coding no fancy apps. Very down-home simple style. Some pages were colored; there were many, many photos of the ashram and people. There were also program listings, Satsang summaries, mantras that you can hear, and even one time a little attempt at a humor page. My favorite page was called Meet the People. The purpose of this page was to present the profile with photo of people who did service. They were not recognized or in the limelight. I got the idea when there was a big Hooha celebration for one of the most prominent people in our organization. It occurred to me that there were other people who did great service. They were not recognized or given a big celebration. During that time I also acquired a couple of beautiful cameras from Gurudev. They were early digital cameras. I remember well the first one was a very big one that could also do videos. I knew it cost a fortune. One day during that period I received a phone call from Gurudev He asked, “Where are you?” I said, “Gurudev I am at Sivananda Hall.” He said, “Wait there. I am sending you a better camera.” Indeed in a short while someone came with that camera. I used them for the website. These were ancient affairs requiring special hardware (SCSI card) and proprietary software. It was fun doing all this.
For some 24 years, everything went very well. Then came ……….
THE GREAT RECONFIGURATION
As the ashram grew in popularity programs multiplied consequently the numbers of guests and people coming increased tremendously. We all knew that more space was needed for teaching classes and conducting programs. Several times administrators wanted to reconfigure the library to accommodate these classes. The proposal was to remove at least half the books and put in a nice classroom. I resisted this a number of times pointing out how we have a beautiful children section, music listening section etc. However, eventually we came to realize that it was necessary to take this space and reconfigure it. An agreement was made as to how that was to be done with demarcation points of this change. We removed half the shelves (and of course half the collection).
Instead of the ranks of shelves being perpendicular to the walls they would be flat against the walls. A new carpet and new draperies would be installed, as well as new HVAC, and new lights in the center. The extremely difficult task of selecting which books were to be taken out was up to me. It took a number of weeks to go through the entire collection of 25,000 items and take many things out. This was extremely difficult on many levels. I also had to give away our beautiful and valuable collection of LPs. (Also very difficult), while the music cassettes, video tapes, movies, so many books. Finally, I had to remove about 10 years’ worth of the more recent National Geographic. Giving away the music section was really a very difficult experience.
The Carpet House came to install the new carpet and draperies. The company that did the HVAC came and installed ductwork and all the heavy equipment and an entirely new HVAC system.
Is now been several years since this event. We have many classes, and programs here. Everyone who comes speaks on how beautiful the place is. And it is beautiful. The books are neatly arranged along the wall. There are two special handmade wooden bookcases on each side of the altar.
The place is full. It is beautiful. It is peaceful. It is well used.